Who’ll take fall if Texas tanks again?
Two years ago, the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves reacted quite differently to their respective second-half collapses.
The Red Sox conducted an exorcism, running off both manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein. The Braves, on the other hand, fired only hitting coach Larry Parrish.
Which brings us to the Texas Rangers, who have melted down for the second straight September, their 7-1 victory Tuesday night over the Tampa Bay Rays aside.
Whether the Rangers would react more like the 2011 Red Sox or 2011 Braves if they miss the postseason is anyone’s guess. But the potential for internal strife is quite real.
Heck, the Rangers had internal strife before the season even began when Nolan Ryan lost his title as team president, then took six weeks to decide that he wanted to remain in the organization.
Now imagine the Rangers losing the American League West to the Oakland Athletics and the AL wild cards to the Rays and Cleveland Indians — three teams with significantly lower payrolls.
Such an outcome could lead to a renewed power struggle between Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels and certainly would raise questions about the future of manager Ron Washington.
For the moment, though, those concerns are on hold.
The Rangers ended their seven-game losing streak Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, improving to 3-12 in September. The Rangers and Rays again are tied for the wild-card lead, with the Indians a half-game behind.
A fourth straight postseason appearance still is well within the Rangers’ reach, but let’s not get too giddy. The Rangers soon will lose the AL West to the Athletics for the second straight year. Whatever excuses the Rangers use — and they can invoke quite a few, legitimately — their performance clearly is disappointing.
So, who gets fired? Should anyone get fired?
Depends upon how this story ends.
Most of the attention Tuesday was on Washington, who raised the issue himself by telling ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM, “Yes, I’m concerned about my job. Who wouldn’t be?”
If the Rangers finish, say, 3-9, and blow a playoff spot, Washington almost certainly will be in trouble, even though he is signed through 2014. Remember, the Rangers lost a five-game lead to the A’s last season with nine to play, albeit with a different cast.
Daniels deflected talk of Washington being on the hot seat before Tuesday’s game, telling reporters that he “fully expected” the manager to return next season. The GM called the subject a “distraction,” adding, “There is no substance to it. It’s not something that has even been remotely discussed.”
In Daniels’ view, the Rangers’ slide is more on the players: “There’s not much I can do. Really, there’s not a whole lot that Ron can do. It’s the guys between the lines.”
And that’s fair, considering that two of the team’s leading hitters, second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Adrian Beltre, entered Tuesday night with zero homers combined in 115 at-bats in September.
Kinsler changed that by hitting a home run on the first pitch of the game, while Beltre — the AL Player of the Month in July and a runner-up in August — went 1 for 4. Center fielder Leonys Martin, the No. 9 hitter, was the Rangers’ offensive star, producing two doubles and a home run.
The bottom line, though, is that the Rangers simply aren’t as talented offensively as they were when they reached the World Series in 2010 and ’11. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault; more like the natural order of things.
The Rangers subtracted outfielder Josh Hamilton, catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and infielder Michael Young from last year’s mix, lost right fielder Nelson Cruz to a 50-game suspension on Aug. 5, never got what they wanted out of oft-injured designated hitter Lance Berkman, whom they signed to a one-year, $11 million free-agent contract.
In some ways, the Rangers are in transition as they break in younger players such as Martin, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielder Jim Adduci. Daniels said earlier this season that Washington might be doing the best job of his seven-year tenure, given the team’s pitching injuries and offensive deficiencies. Washington acknowledged that this has been his most challenging season, citing “all of the adversity.” But, seriously, how many managers could withstand a second straight September collapse?
Where this could get interesting is if Ryan and Daniels disagree on Washington and the team’s future. Ryan seemingly lost power last spring when the Rangers stripped him of his presidency while elevating Daniels to president of baseball operations and Rick George to president of business operations. (George then left in July to become athletic director at the University of Colorado.)
Might Ryan regain his juice if the Rangers’ season ended in a flop?
Let’s not go there. Yet.
“One win would change it. One win would set things in motion,” Washington said before Tuesday night’s game.
“We are capable of more than one win. We need one just to get it right. It’s about trying to get it right. I’ll take two, and then three and four and five and keep going. But we’ve gotta get one.”
They got one.
Now, they need more.