Rangers fall short of expectations in 2013
Texas wins 91 games to stay in contention before dropping tiebreaker game to Rays
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers went from two straight World Series runs in 2010-11 to two straight one-and-done seasons in 2012-13.
After losing to the Orioles in the inaugural American League Wild Card Game in 2012, the Rangers lost to the Rays in a tiebreaker game this past season. So the Rangers, missing out on a chance to meet the Indians in the Wild Card Game, also failed to make the playoffs for the first time in four years despite winning 91 games.
The Rangers led the division by seven games on May 15 and by 3 1/2 as late as Aug. 23. Then they lost 18 of their next 27 games, which knocked them out of the AL West race as the Athletics pulled away to the division title for the second straight season. The Rangers were able to stay in the Wild Card race only by winning seven straight to end the regular season.
The Rangers pitched well enough to remain in postseason contention despite key injuries to starters Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Nick Tepesch. Their bullpen was particularly outstanding. But the offense scored just 730 runs, Texas' lowest in a full season since 1992.
The Rangers still finished with a home attendance of 3,178, 273 in 82 games, the second-highest total in franchise history. In finishing with over three million in attendance for the second straight year, the Rangers had the fifth-highest total in the Major Leagues in 2013.
The Rangers have won 370 games since the start of the 2010 season, tying the Braves for the second most. The Yankees have won 372 games over the past four years.
But overall, it was still a disappointing season. After the success in 2010-11, the Rangers raised the standards of the franchise and this past season did not measure up. For much of the first 40 years of the Rangers' time in Arlington, a 91-win season would be cause for celebration.
That is no longer the case. The Rangers expect much better and 2013 did not deliver. Here are five of the biggest storylines of the season.
1. A tale of two pitchers
The Rangers opened the season with an 8-2 loss to the Astros on March 31 at Minute Maid Park. Harrison, who had been an 18-game winner in 2012, took the loss by allowing six runs in 5 2/3 innings. Harrison lost his next start and then went on the disabled list with a herniated disk in his lower back. The condition would require two surgeries and Harrison did not pitch again the rest of the season.
The Rangers had multiple injuries that hit the pitching staff. But there was nothing bigger than losing their 2012 Pitcher of the Year after just two losing starts.
In the second game of the season, Yu Darvish went out and retired 26 straight Astros. He was one out away from a perfect game when Marwin Gonzalez smacked a single up the middle. The Rangers still won, 7-0, earning Darvish his first win of the season.
Darvish ended up 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA and a Major League-leading 277 strikeouts. A lack of run support late in the season kept him from racking up more wins, but he still finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting behind Max Scherzer of the Tigers. It was the highest finish by a Rangers pitcher since Ferguson Jenkins lost to Catfish Hunter in 1974.
2. The fall of the Rangers' offense
The Rangers just did not hit well in 2013. Their .412 slugging percentage was the lowest by a Rangers team since 1995, and their .323 on-base percentage was their third lowest in the past 25 years. They hit .249 with runners in scoring position, fourth lowest in the AL, and they hit 176 home runs, their third-lowest total since 1996.
Injuries kept Lance Berkman from being a major factor at designated hitter, and David Murphy was unable to fight his way out of a season-long slump. Key first-half injuries to second baseman Ian Kinsler, catcher A.J. Pierzynski and first baseman Mitch Moreland also hurt.
The biggest blow to the offense, however, came in the second half when outfielder Nelson Cruz was hit with a 50-game suspension for violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Policy.
The Rangers tried to soften the blow by trading for outfielder Alex Rios. But the reality was the Rangers needed both Cruz and Rios to get the offense back to normal production levels.
3. Serving youth
The Rangers had four young players earn their way into prominent roles on the team: center fielder Leonys Martin, infielder Jurickson Profar, pitcher Martin Perez and reliever Tanner Scheppers. They all had varying degrees of success and entrenched themselves firmly as part of the Rangers' foundation, with high expectations for the future. Profar had the most difficult challenge trying to break into the Major Leagues as a utility infielder but goes into 2014 as the Rangers' starting second baseman.
4. The bullpen paradox
The Rangers left Spring Training worried about their bullpen. Those concerns disappeared early and never returned. Led by closer Joe Nathan, the Rangers had the best bullpen in the Majors in 2013, finishing with a 2.91 ERA and an MLB-best 80.7 percent (46-for-57) success rate on save opportunities.
Nathan, who had 43 saves and a 1.39 ERA, was supported by the setup work of Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor. But the most remarkable story was left-hander Neal Cotts, who pitched in the Major Leagues for the first time since 2009 and was 8-3 with a 1.11 ERA in 58 games.
5. Farewell to a legend
This surfaced as a possibility in Spring Training and became reality at the end of the season. Nolan Ryan stepped down as Rangers CEO in mid-October after overseeing the rebuilding of the franchise from the dark days of bankruptcy.
Ryan left saying he wanted to devote more time to his family. There were also unresolved issues in the front office and decision-making process that may have contributed to his announcement. Whatever the reasons, the Rangers' 2013 season overall did not end the way they wanted, both on and off the field.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.