Well, shoot. This isn't going to be a fun one to write.
The Texas Rangers. Boy, oh boy. On the one hand, winning two pennants is hard. It takes a talented team to win two pennants. It takes breaks, sure, but it's also hard to win 90-some games four seasons in a row. The Tigers have been around for 113 years. They've never done that. It's hard to be that good that consistently.
The important thing, then, is to do a postmortem before the body is cold. That way, you don't let "reflection" and "careful contemplation" get in the way of knee-jerk analysis. Let's take a look at what the Rangers did wrong, in which "wrong" is defined as winning 91 games instead of 92.
Lance Berkman instead of Ryan Raburn
Okay, this is a flip way of saying that Lance Berkman didn't work out. The Indians are in the playoffs because Ryan Raburn hit .272/.357/.543 with 16 homers in 243 at-bats this year. That's like sticking your tongue in the quarter slot of a Galaga machine and getting 10 free plays. You can do that at every arcade until you're arrested in all 50 states, and it's never going to work. Until it does. Just don't expect it.
Berkman was the smarter play, and the Rangers paid a premium to get the better odds with a DH like Berkman instead of flotsam and Raburn. But Big Puma had troubles staying healthy for the third season out of the last four. It looks like Berkman's 2011 was the outlier, not the standard. And that outlier season came with the Cardinals, who …
Good god. Never mind. Moving on.
Now, I know WAR isn't a perfect, all-seeing stat. But …
That is some Hank Aaron-like consistency. But it's a bad kind of consistency. For four years, Mitch Moreland has been a net negative for the Rangers. He has problems getting on base. He's not exactly Keith Hernandez with the glove. He can't run. It adds up to an okay stopgap, but no one you would want to start for three-plus seasons without actively looking for a replacement.
The Rangers have their own evaluation process. They don't take five seconds on Baseball-Reference.com like I do. So they're seeing something different. They're evaluating Moreland in a different light with a different metric. And I'm guessing that according to the in-house metrics, Moreland isn't the problem.
But it's a little strange. He sure looks like a drag on the offense, and it's been obvious for a while.
Exchanging trade chips for a starting pitcher
The Rangers' ERA+ this season: 114. Matt Garza's career ERA+: 108. Garza's a good pitcher, but his typical season would have brought the Rangers' numbers down. The Rangers were floundering a bit with pitching injuries, so there's a little context here, too. But the Rangers had enough depth to weather the storm until they got healthy.
The offense, though, didn't have enough depth at any point of the season. It was an average bunch of hitters. No more. And if the Rangers had even a whiff of the news that Nelson Cruz was going to be suspended, they should have held on to their prospects for someone a little more exciting than Alex Rios.
To be fair, they might have seen the same thing. Too late.
Nelson Cruz getting suspended
Nelson Cruz, you blockhead.
But it's sort of pointless to point at the obvious things that did or didn't happen. The A's are in the playoffs because Josh Donaldson is apparently one of the best players in baseball. The Rays are in the playoffs because they've figured out the secret of James Loney and Delmon Young, and they aren't sharing.
The Indians are in the playoffs because of Ryan Raburn.
The Rangers needed one of those things. They needed Ian Kinsler to hit 16 homers instead of 13. David Murphy to have a .310 OBP instead of .282. Jurickson Profar with a .744 OPS instead of .644. Missing the playoffs by a game isn't something that happens solely because of woulda-coulda-shouldas. It's something that happens because baseball isn't fair.
Pretty sure the Rangers understand that part of baseball by now. Pretty sure.