ARLINGTON, TX - Mitch Moreland #18 of the Texas Rangers exchanges words with home plate umpire Kerwin Danley after striking out during the third inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Texas won 7-3. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
If the Rangers can hold a lead for the next nine innings of baseball they play, they'll be thankful for a lot of things. One of them will be how poorly Mitch Moreland has played.
To win a World Series, every team has to experience a lot of good fortune. Teams will go through hardship and adversity and still come out the other side as champions, but on every championship team in the history of baseball, there are a handful of players that make you say, "Wow. Didn't count on that."
Lance Berkman returned to form in a way that even the Cardinals couldn't have expected. Mike Napoli turned into Mike Piazza. The Rangers started the season with unknowns in 60% of their rotation -- Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison combined for just 16 starts in 2010. Matt Holliday missed a good amount of time, and Allen Craig hit just as well in his absence.
If the Rangers win, though, their biggest streak of good fortune might come with how disappointing one of their players was. Mitch Moreland started the season off on fire. After the first two months of the season, he was hitting .300/.376/.513 -- even for a first baseman in Rangers Ballpark, that's a perfectly fine slash line. He was hitting for power and getting on base, and he was only 25 years old. On June 1st, the Rangers figured they had their first baseman for a long time.
For the rest of the year, though, he hit .237/.289/.362 -- even for a utility infielder in Rangers Ballpark, that's a perfectly abominable slash line. He wasn't getting on base. He wasn't hitting for power. In 304 at-bats after May, he walked 21 times and had 63 strikeouts. And in the playoffs, he's been even worse, though things are looking up. He hit .100 in the ALDS, .111 in the ALCS, and he's hit .125 so far in the World Series. By the time the 37th round of the playoffs gets here, he'll be Rod Carew.
This might not seem like a streak of good fortune, but the Rangers are just a win away from their first championship. Moreland's shortcomings haven't prevented the Rangers from getting this far. If the Rangers win, Moreland will be part of an intricate tapestry, where every success and failure happened at just the right time. The Rangers made it through a 162-game gauntlet with Moreland starting, and with one more win, they would have made it through three consecutive short series with him doing what he does. He certainly wouldn't have made the team do any better -- there aren't extra championship bonus points awarded for having additional productive players.
So the Rangers would have a championship, and they'd also have the knowledge that Moreland might not be the future. They would have this knowledge right as Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols hit free agency. This is a cake/eating it situation, and it reminds me of a headline from last year:
Rangers' new 20-year TV deal worth $80 million a year
They could buy two Rays rosters -- one for the home, and one for the office -- just from their TV deal alone. But for next year, they aren't going to have a lot of holes to fill in the lineup. They'll have to make decisions on Napoli and Josh Hamilton for 2013, but for next year, everything's in place. Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Napoli, Hamilton ... none of them are going anywhere.
But they'll have money. Gobs of it. And they won't be so attached to the idea of Mitch Moreland starting for them for the next five years.
There will be other places to spend it -- the rotation and outfield, for two -- but they'll at least entertain the idea of pursing both of the best free agents on the market. And if they win one more game, they can lean back and say, "Thank you, Mitch, for doing exactly what you did," even if it's not meant in quite the same spirit as he would have hoped.