Anyone who watched the Texas Rangers for more than just a handful of games in 2016 witnessed good baseball, with more ups than downs, more wins than losses.
Many more, in both instances.
The Rangers knew how to win, which they did 36 times by one run and 59 times by multiple runs. No American League team topped their 95 wins.
Their offense was one of the best in the American League. Their starting rotation boasted two front-line starters. Their closer, by a few measures, was one of the most valuable pitchers in the league.
No one would have guessed any of that by watching their final three games of the season, three losses in the AL Division Series as the Toronto Blue Jays swept the Rangers into the off-season.
So as the Rangers flew home Monday morning and set about going their separate ways, they did so knowing that they what they did Thursday and Friday at Globe Life Park and Sunday at Rogers Centre wasn’t representative of the team they believed they were.
“We know we had a really good team to accomplish what we wanted to,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We came up short. It’s not because we didn’t want to put the work in. We had the desire. I’m proud of these guys. They came out every day and worked hard, but we got cold at the worst moment facing a team that got hot. We couldn’t beat them.”
The Rangers saw all three facets of the game break down in Game 1, when Marco Estrada shut down the offense, Cole Hamels struggled to get the final out of the third inning, and the defense didn’t help him out in a 10-1 loss.
Yu Darvish surrendered four home runs in five innings in Game 2, and while the offense collected 13 hits, it was 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position in a 5-3 loss.
Starting pitching and defense bit them again Sunday, as Colby Lewis was gone after only two innings and as the tying and winning runs were both unearned in a 7-6 loss in 10 innings.
“We know that we’re a way better team,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “I’m really proud of my teammates and everything we did this year. Unfortunately, we didn’t click at the right time.”
It’s fair to wonder now what the 2017 Rangers will look like.
They should be contenders for a third straight AL West title, with Hamels and Darvish back as well as the entire bullpen. Beltre, Andrus, Jonathan Lucroy, Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo and Nomar Mazara will return to a formidable offense.
But Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gomez, Mitch Moreland and Lewis are free agents, and the Rangers must decide if they will exercise the club option they hold on Derek Holland.
If Desmond and Gomez don’t return, the Rangers are short a center fielder. If Beltran isn’t back, there will be a hole at DH. Joey Gallo could take over for Moreland at first base, but the Rangers will have to endure his growing pains. Without Lewis and Holland, the Rangers must find two starters.
Desmond said that he hadn’t stopped to consider if he would be back after a bounce-back season that could make him one of the more attractive outfielders on the free-agent market.
What the Rangers will have, once again, is the foul taste of reaching the postseason only to fall well short of their goal. Manager Jeff Banister said that sense of unfinished business should push them in 2017.
The Rangers believe they were far better than they showed in the ALDS.
“You’ve got to use these types of situations as that burning fire that keeps you going all winter to come back with the motivation to get back to this spot, and I believe we will,” Banister said.
“Look at the numbers and how we played all year long — the comeback wins, the one-run wins. That’s not luck. I’ll argue with anybody that wants to say it’s luck. It’s not luck. It’s a case that they continued to play. They’re very talented.”