The most surprising thing about the American League Division Series that ended Sunday night wasn’t that the Toronto Blue Jays won it. It’s how the Texas Rangers played in getting swept into the off-season.
Everyone who watched them this season knew that they went through lulls in which they didn’t pitch or didn’t hit or didn’t play well defensively. But that’s every team.
The Rangers were the top team in the AL. Forget run differential. This team won games. That’s what matters. They knew how to win. They hit when they didn’t pitch and pitched when they didn’t hit. They beat contenders regularly.
For their final three games, though, they had break downs that cost them. Nothing went right in Game 1. Nothing. Game 2 was only marginally better. Game 3 saw the offense and bullpen perform, but the rotation again faltered and the glove work wasn’t good enough.
Add it up, and the Rangers are booking tee times and going into planning mode for 2017.
So long, 2016.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 7-6 Game 3 loss.
1. The Rangers’ starting rotation, headed by two pitchers billed as aces, posted a 13.94 ERA in the three ALDS games in 10 1/3 innings.
That’s why the Rangers aren’t playing any longer.
Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, those aces everyone pinned the Rangers postseason hopes to, gave up six and five earned runs. Colby Lewis matched Darvish with five earned in Game 3.
Based on the total body of work, as manager Jeff Banister likes to say, they trio should have been feared. Based on the final month, the Rangers were doomed.
Hamels said he was healthy, but didn’t pitch that way. Darvish tinkered with his mechanics — during a start — and didn’t exude confidence even though he finished the season well.
Lewis might not have been 100 percent, though his velocity was the same as before he was injured in June. He wasn’t sharp enough during his four comeback starts, and he didn’t have enough command of his slider Sunday.
Jake Diekman didn’t help matters Sunday, neither did Banister by going to him in the sixth when Jeremy Jeffress was pitching so well. It seemed like a no-brainer that the Blue Jays would go to Melvin Upton Jr., who was acquired for the sole purpose of punishing left-handed pitchers.
He doubled on Diekman’s only real pitch. Diekman then intentionally walked Kevin Pillar to load the bases with one out. One run, the game-tying run, scored in the inning.
By using three pitchers in the sixth, the Rangers had to use Matt Bush for three innings. Sam Dyson was being saved for the save opportunity that never came. There’s an argument being made that Dyson should have pitched when Bush had never pitched more than three innings.
But, though, had been brilliant for two innings on only 22 pitches. No problems here with that decision, though he got only two outs in the 10th before the season ended.
2. Lewis walked off the mound after two innings plus two batters.
The long ball hurt Lewis, as he allowed eight of them after coming off the disabled list. Two of those came in the first inning as he squandered a 1-0 lead. He often says a homer is OK as long as it’s a solo shot. One was. One wasn’t. In the postseason setting, no homer is OK.
That could be the last time he’s seen in a Rangers uniform until an alumni event a few years down the road.
Lewis is a free agent after the season. Again. The Rangers, of course, love Lewis as much as he loves them, but the Rangers might have to make a tough call on a 36-year-old who was hurt and struggled at the end of the season.
Then again, the rotation has only three guaranteed members returning — Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez. That’s a good start in an off-season that features a relatively lousy free-agent pitching market.
The Rangers could make a trade for a pitcher, but it’s not like they have a full cupboard in the farm system after the trade-deadline acquisitions the past two years. Lewis, who pitched this season for $6 million, might become an attractive option, and so might Derek Holland for that matter.
The $11 million club option the Rangers have on Holland isn’t all that expensive for a starting pitcher. But he’s been unable to avoid injuries the past three years and seemingly isn’t viewed in a good light by club brass.
If the Rangers are get back to the postseason and advance this time, they need to focus on the rotation this off-season.
3. The play that ended the Rangers’ season wasn’t a bad one. They tried to turn a double play with a catcher running to first. It didn’t happen, and Rougned Odor’s throw was offline enough for Josh Donaldson to score from third base.
As the play unfolded, I thought Andrus was going to throw to third base to get Donaldson. When Odor threw to first, I assumed Martin was already there. In hindsight, maybe Odor’s best play was to throw behind Donaldson at third. Maybe the best play was to eat the ball and let Bush deal with Upton Jr.
While the starting pitching and lack of timely hits in Game 2 can easily be pointed to as why the Rangers are going home, the defense didn’t have a great three game either.
Game 1 probably is a loss with the way Marco Estrada pitched, but if Adrian Beltre snags Donaldson’s liner in the third, the Blue Jays don’t score. If Cole Hamels catches Edwin Encarnacion’s ball or lets it go through, the Blue Jays get one run. If Desmond doesn’t hesitate in center field on Troy Tulowitzki’s trip, the Blue Jays score only twice.
Jonathan Lucroy, a defensive whiz behind the plate, committed a passed ball in the sixth inning of Game 3, allowing the tying run to score. It could have been a wild pitch on Keone Kela, considering Lucroy was set up inside, but it wasn’t and the run was unearned.
Pitching wins championships, but it needs the defense to help it out.