2023 Texas Rangers: A case study in historical success, amid ‘what if?’ disappointment

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Let’s get this out of the way right now: The Texas Rangers should not be here, in the playoffs.

They won 68 games in 2022, and a winning record while flirting with the third wild card spot were both overly optimistic, and reasonable, for 2023.

When you spend as much money as the Rangers did in the previous two offseasons — nearly $800 million in guaranteed contracts to a handful of players — historic turnarounds should not be off the table.

Whatever you think of this team and their chances of winning in the postseason, remember that Vegas oddsmakers set the over/under on the Rangers’ 2023 win total at 81.5.

The Rangers smashed that by winning 90 games for only the ninth time since the team moved here from Washington D.C. in 1972, and qualifying for the playoffs.

The Rangers open their best-of-three wildcard series against the Rays on Tuesday afternoon in Tampa. For you believers, the Rangers are 5-0 in the playoffs at Tampa.

Nothing the team does in the upcoming playoffs should diminish what these Rangers accomplished. Their plus-22 win total from last year is not a historical mark in MLB history, but it is the third-largest in the history of the team.

(For you seam heads, the 1974 Rangers finished with 27 more wins than the previous year; the ‘86 team improved by 25 wins.)

Credit GM Chris Young; in the offseason, he firmly believed that his team in 2022 was closer to a 77-win team; that with some improvements they could be in the playoffs now rather than 2024.

The Rangers have always been known for their offense, and their lineup this season was as good as any in the history of the team.

Now that they are here in the playoffs, it should be celebrated, and lamented.

The Rangers could have done so much more.

If only Jacob deGrom’s elbow didn’t snap.

If only Max Scherzer stayed healthy.

If only Corey Seager didn’t miss 40 games because of injury.

If only they had not flopped around at various points, against toilet teams, in the last two months of the season.

If only Josh Jung had not missed more than a month.

And, if only their bullpen wasn’t absolutely, historically, terrible.

Primary owner Ray Davis approving a shopping spree bought the Rangers into contention, and while money can buy nearly everything all of that cash didn’t give this team everything.

The Rangers inability to find a core group of competent relievers is the only reason this team didn’t win 100 games, and push the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks for the biggest one-season improvement in MLB history.

The Rangers should have won the American League West but they missed that by a tie-breaker with the Houston Astros, because, speaking of history, the history that the Rangers really made is one they’d prefer to forget.

The Rangers converted 30 saves this season, 27th in MLB. They had 63 save opportunities.

Loosely translated for us who are mathematically challenged: The Rangers had more blown saves than saves.

The Rangers became the first playoff team with a save percentage worse than 50 percent since this became a stat, in 1969. The Rangers’ bullpen ERA of 4.77 is 24th “best” in baseball, and the “least good” of any team in the playoffs.

Go through the schedule, and you can find so many games the Rangers had in the bag only to blow it late.

From, April 24, 2023, at Cincinnati. The Rangers led the Reds 6-4 heading into the bottom of the eighth. The Reds scored three runs in the final two innings to win.

Or, this game from the very next day: The Rangers led the Reds 6-1 going into the bottom of the eighth. The Reds scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth to win.

On, August 30, 2023, the Rangers led the Mets in New York 5-3 entering the bottom of the eighth. The Rangers lost in the 10th.

There are more of these. So many more.

Like, Sept. 28. Rangers at Seattle. The Rangers led entering the bottom of the ninth inning 2-1, only to allow a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning.

Every team can look back over their 162-game schedule and find these sorts of blown-leads. The Rangers just happen to have the most of any good team in baseball, and just one less blown lead would have resulted in a division title.

Acquiring veteran reliever Aroldis Chapman has helped, but his 3.72 ERA in 29 innings as a Rangers says a lot. He’s good, and no longer the automatic strikeout machine he was a few years ago.

Killing Bruce Bochy for his late-game decisions became trendy in the last two months of the season, but what can he do? Bochy has not one, let alone three or four, arm in that bullpen he can trust. He can only hope that the one he picks has it going on that given day.

The Rangers are in the playoffs, and there is no such thing as bad playoff baseball.

They shouldn’t be here, and that much is worth celebrating.