Every year when the offseason arrives at various times for each baseball team, it’s like the band is breaking up a little. When they come back for the next tour, most of the time the core members remain but the harmonies and melodies have a different sound. For the Rangers, every year of their franchise the band has had to break up without accomplishing its ultimate goal, and this year was no different.
For 162 games, the Rangers were the best team in the American League. It took just three games for that to completely unravel. This 2016 season for Texas seemed like the kind of year we have seen the Giants and Royals parlay into World Series titles, and the “team of destiny” narrative would have been strong for the Rangers had they also gone all the way. But instead, we are left to look at historic one-run records and records against teams over .500 as an anomaly of a team knocked out quickly by an offensive barrage from Toronto.
After the final game of the Division Series, Adrian Beltre said of the Blue Jays “they hit better than us, they played defense better than us, and they pitched better than us.” And he is right. For those three games, the Rangers were not the better team. So much of what had fueled their success for six months evaded them at the time they needed it most: starting pitching, timely hitting, wearing down opposing pitchers, capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes, and playing championship execution defense.
This wasn’t the Rangers year, but in so many ways it could have been.
The Rangers had a .766 win percentage in one-run games, a .659 win percentage against teams over .500, and a .789 win percentage against Houston. Those were all a big part of the Rangers’ success this year, but it’s nearly impossible to sustain winning in that way. Can we really expect them to repeat those feats next year?
This was another year of Beltre, at 37 years old, leading the team in every way as the most valuable player and example that everyone looks to, and he did it all in such a joyful and delightful manner, generating smiles and a GIF/vineworthy antic per night, it seemed. He should never be doubted, but how many more five or six WAR seasons can he produce before he finally show signs of age or health catching up to him?
This was another year of Yu Darvish, perhaps the second-to-last of his time in a Rangers uniform. He missed some time, but he was on the mound for the postseason. His one playoff start flashed why he’s brilliant and the growth he made this year, as the Blue Jays were helpless against his fastball and slider combo when they had to respect both. But perhaps we also saw the next step he needs to take, as Toronto sat on the fastball when they got ahead in the count and made Darvish pay for it.
This was perhaps the only year of Ian Desmond in Texas, and the presence he brought on the field and in the clubhouse and to the postgame interviews. It seems unlikely he’ll return, but he ranks high on the list of favorite players who spent just one season with the Rangers.
This was the best year in the career of Elvis Andrus. He vindicated himself with his performance for the season and in the playoffs, homering for the first time in the postseason on the same stage that hosted the lowest moment in his career the year before. In his age 27 season, is this the peak of his career? One of Andrus, Odor, or Profar will likely be traded this season. Will Texas look to sell high on Andrus, or keep the core of him and Odor together? No matter who leaves, it will hurt in some way.
This was the year of finding Matt Bush in a parking lot and seeing him progress to become a lights-out reliever, who even in his third inning of relief was the right man to be on the mound trying to avoid elimination in Game 3 in Toronto. But he pitched 92 1/3 innings this season between Double-A and the big leagues in his first season in professional ball since 2011. We saw the relievers with the largest workloads in 2015 return in less effective forms in 2016, so will that be the case with Bush, too?
This year was also the revelation of Alex Claudio, who although may be considered the last man on the pitching staff contributed key innings and generated better results than expected. Will he be able to repeat that success or will MLB teams catch up to his smoke-and-mirrors offerings next year?
This was the last year of Prince Fielder’s career, and while he didn’t contribute on the field, among other things his 25 teammates were playing to get him a shot at a World Series ring, along with a lengthy list of veteran players also seeking their first.
This was a year the Rangers went big at the trade deadline. They didn’t get the starting pitching they were looking for, and in the end with the way the Blue Jays beat up Cole Hamels and Darvish that likely wouldn’t have mattered much. But they solidified the team in other areas with Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran, both of whom were a big shot in the arm in the regular season, even though we didn’t see much from them in the playoffs.
With just eleven more wins, these are the kinds of things that become legend in the Texas Rangers franchise. Instead, now they remind us of what a special year 2016 was for this team, and how we’ll likely never see another one like it again. Some of the band members will be different next year, and they’ll play a different set list, but at least we know the show will still go on.
Check in with Peter on Twitter @FutureGM with your favorite moments from the 2016 season.