Okay, so that was a tough ending for the Rangers, who just a month ago seemed a dead-solid lock for the playoffs. And now they've got October off. You wanna blame the manager for what happened in the Rangers' 163rd game, though? Deadspin does:
Game 163, or any individual game, is a crap shoot. It's hard to point to larger issues than "David Price hurled a seven-hit complete game" as a reason the Rangers bombed out last night. But there were microcosms of the team that came up shy of the postseason despite playing an unbalanced schedule in a division with three of the worst six teams in the league.
As Jonah Keri wrote, it's a given that Ron Washington will offer opponents "at least one inefficiency to start the game, and maybe a tactical mistake or three once the game starts." Take your pick from last night. Elvis Andrus was picked off in the first, Ian Kinsler in the third. In the eighth inning, two separate Rangers attempted to bunt for base hits: first Leonys Martin, who took a ball on the fingers before lining out, then Andrus, the team's best hitter in the second half, who inexplicably squared around with a runner on second and two outs. When asked why he bunted, Andrus admitted. "I don't know, actually."
These aren't all Ron Washington decisions, but they're entirely the product of Ron Washington's philosophy, which appears to be "Do What You Feel."
Speaking of Jonah Keri, we discussed this very subject on Jonah's podcast before Game 163. I've been as rough on Washington as anyone, at least during the Rangers' recent postseason runs; I don't follow the Rangers the rest of the time to say much, either ill or well, about Washington. We just know his reputation, which goes back to his coaching days with the A's, at least: great guy in the clubhouse. Enough people say something, and you start thinking it's probably true. But since becoming a manager, Washington's also gained a reputation for being out-thought in the big games.
Is that fair? I sure hope so, since I've done my small part in giving him that reputation.
I have a real tough time blaming him for the loss of Game 163, though. For one thing, David Price did hurl a complete game. For another, it seems odd to blame Washington for Andrus's bunt ... or even to blame Andrus for Andrus's bunt. There weren't two outs; when Andrus bunted, there was one out. He was bunting for a base hit; had he succeeded, he would have represented the tying run, with some pretty good hitters coming up next. If Andrus swings away and makes an out, nobody says a thing. But is his expected batting average lower when bunting than when swinging away?
Maybe a little. But Andrus totaled 25 extra-base hits all season. I would argue that he shouldn't be hitting near the top of the order at all; but once he's there, you're just hoping for a single or a walk. Especially in this situation, where you're looking for at least two runs in the inning.
Now, those two early pickoffs were a real problem. But is this a general problem? The Rangers finished second in the American League this season with 149 steals, while being caught only 46 times. Andrus and Martín and Craig Gentry and Alex Rios combined to go 118 for 139 in steal attempts. Kinsler didn't fare so well, and maybe Washington should have put the reins on him. But players do make mistakes, and it's not clear to me (yet, anyway) that Washington's players make more mistakes than usual. Do the Rangers lead the league in TOOTBLANs?
I've quibbled with Washington's bullpen tactics over the years, but that didn't really come into play Monday night. Neither of his two best starting pitchers were available, so he went with Plan C or D, and there was very little difference between them. He chose Plan C, and went with D when C got into some trouble.
I have no doubt that Ron Washington cost the Rangers a game at some point with his managing. Win that game, and Game 163 doesn't exist. Maybe he lost more games than he won. But the Rangers lost Game 163 because David Price pitched well, because Alex Rios couldn't square up a fastball from Price in the eighth inning, and because of a hundred other things that could have gone the other way. Mostly, the Rangers lost because it's baseball.
I don't know if Ron Washington is a great manager, or even a good one. But as Brisbee points out, Ron Washington's Rangers have won 90 or more games in four straight seasons. That's something Jim Leyland's Tigers have never done. I would have a hard time firing a manager with that sort of record.
For much more about the Rangers' sad ending, please visit SB Nation's Lone Star Ball.