The Rangers made it to Game 7 of the World Series.
The Texas Rangers!
Last year's ride that ended against a super San Francisco pitching staff in five games was magical just to experience the Fall Classic for the first time. This season, yes, expectations were raised. Those expectations skyrocketed when Texas took a 3-2 lead going back to St. Louis. Those same high expectations came one strike away from reality -- twice -- before eventually succumbing to the Cardinals.
Part of me wants to go on a witch hunt for scape goats. My brother's graphic regarding Game 7 home plate umpire Jerry Layne's strike zone is a humorous beginning as we light our torches.
But the witch hunt doesn't need to start and stop at the Game 7 crew chief. Texas had its chances. This isn't the Dallas Mavericks in 2006 against the Miami Heat -- although it certainly crossed my mind more than once on Twitter, especially in the fifth inning when Scott Feldman allegedly walked Yadier Molina. When it comes down to it, however, the Rangers were in control of their own destiny and their carriage turned back into a pumpkin three nights before Halloween.
The bullpen that was so strong throughout the entire 2011 season, ALDS, and ALCS. That same bullpen disintegrated against the Cardinals in the Fall Classic. The pitching staff in general fell victim to walks that didn't come back to bite them in the earlier rounds of the postseason. Texas set a new record for walks in a World Series with 41 over this seven-game set, and too many of them came around to score.
In Game 7, the Rangers walked six batters (one intentionally) with three of them coming around to score. Scott Feldman walked in a run, and CJ Wilson hit a batter with the bases loaded to score another. Overall in the postseason, Texas played with too much fire (77 walks in 17 games) to not get burned. Here's a look at the walks, intentional walks, and subsequent runs during this playoff run:
The Rangers walks were certainly part of the problem, but the bullpen's collapse -- a bullpen that looked like it would be the reason Texas would win the series -- became the team's fatal flaw over this seven game series. This team's starting rotation was never heralded as a great rotation like the 2010 Giants staff we ran into that featured Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgardener.
Round Game Walks (IBB) Scored ALDS 1 vs. TB 2 (0) 1 ALDS 2 vs. TB 4 (0) 1 ALDS 3 at TB 5 (0) 0 ALDS 4 at TB 3 (0) 2 ALDS TOTAL 14 (0) 4
Round Game Walks (IBB) Scored ALCS 1 vs. DET 6 (1) 0 ALCS 2 vs. DET 6 (1) 0 ALCS 3 at DET 2 (0) 0 ALCS 4 at DET 5 (1) 0 ALCS 5 at DET 3 (0) 0 ALCS 6 vs. DET 0 (0) 0 ALCS TOTAL 22 (3) 0
Round Game Walks (IBB) Scored WS 1 at STL 6 (2) 0 WS 2 at STL 4 (0) 0 WS 3 vs. STL 6 (1) 5 WS 4 vs. STL 3 (0) 0 WS 5 vs. STL 9 (4) 2 WS 6 at STL 7 (1) 1 WS 7 at STL 6 (1) 3 WS TOTAL 41 (9) 11
Somehow starters CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison as well as regular season starter Alexi Ogando forged one of the most consistent starting rotations in the big leagues in 2011. In the post season, however, things got a little dicey. After starters earned decisions in all four games against Tampa Bay, the bullpen earned all four wins in the ALCS and two of the three victories in the World Series.
We didn't see the same bullpen against St. Louis. Alexi Ogando was un-hittable against Detroit in the ALCS and somehow looked liked a 2010 version of Derek Holland when he reached the World Series. Neftali Feliz had never blown a postseason save until Game 6 on Thursday night. Scott Feldman worked 8.2 scoreless postseason innings before allowing three earned runs over 4.1 innings in the Fall Classic.
Offensively, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli were amazing. Adrian Beltre's bat -- the same bat that launched three home runs in Game 4 of the ALDS -- was perhaps out-shined by his glove-work at third base. But Josh Hamilton's power faded, save for the two-run home run in the 10th inning of Game 6 which might have gone down as the Kirk Gibson moment of the franchise if not for the Cardinals' amazing comeback. Hamilton and Mike Young seemed out of their element in the World Series. Not that the moment was too big for them, because I don't think it was, but they had opportunities that went unfulfilled.
Manager Ron Washington made some critical errors in Game 1 and Game 6, both costly losses on National League turf. But for anyone who is ready to get rid of the skipper, pull on the reins because Texas wouldn't be where they are if not for "Wash." He was not Boston's Grady Little leaving in Pedro Martinez too long in the 2003 ALCS. Washington was out-managed in a National League park by Tony LaRussa -- and I don't think anyone anticipated something different. Washington twice sent Esteban German to the plate in the World Series. He kept going back to Ogando out of the bullpen. And he opted for Darren Oliver in the 10th inning of Game 6 instead of giving Feliz another shot at a save (a move that I did agree with at the time).
The World Series is over. The season is over. But hopefully for Rangers fans, the fun is simply just starting. For anyone who wants to compare this franchise, now twice losers of the World Series, to either the Atlanta Braves or NFL's Buffalo Bills, go ahead. Considering where the Rangers have been for a majority of the franchise's history, to have a run of success like the Braves (five pennants and a World Championship while winning 14 straight division crowns) would be a much welcomed new era.
The future is bright in Texas, despite how dark it may seem tonight.