The Texas Rangers may have clinched their division on Friday, however, I don’t think winning the AL West counts for much with this club nor their fans. After last season’s ALDS playoff meltdown, this is a club that has a lot to prove as they prepare for the post-season again.
Baseball fans will remember what can only be called an epic meltdown from the seventh inning of Game 5 of last year’s ALDS against the Toronto Blue Jays. Heading into Game 5 last season Texas, who had already squandered a 2-0 series lead with back-to-back losses in their own park, still had a chance to win the series decider at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Having won two games in the building earlier in the series, the task for the Rangers certainly wasn’t daunting.
Furthermore, the luck in Game 5 certainly seemed to go Texas’ way. In the top of the seventh inning, Blue Jays’ catcher Russell Martin inadvertently hit a batter with a throw, allowing a go-ahead run to score from third base for the Rangers.
What followed in the bottom half of the same inning is a shocking example of crumbling under pressure. Texas had what should have been a three-up-three-down inning instead they allowed the Jays to load the bases on three routine fielding errors.
With the first should-have-been-out play out of the inning, a Russell Martin grounder to Elvis Andrus went for an E6 and the Fox commentators weren’t impressed.
Fox commentator: “yeah he just clanked it…he had time.”
With the second should-have-been play out of the inning, a Kevin Millar fielder’s choice groundout to Mitch Moreland got thrown into the dirt at 2nd base.
Fox commentator Harold Reynolds: “Oh my. You got the left-handed first baseman; he’s got the easy throw for the force…and Moreland just shanked it.”
With the third should-have-been-out play of the inning, Ryan Goins of the Jays laid down a sacrifice bunt that didn’t seem as though it would do the job. Adrian Beltre, Texas’ third baseman fielded it easily and threw it over to Andrus who was covering at third base.
Fox commentator Harold Reynolds: “Great execution. Look at Beltre…perfect throw…Andrus just drops it. He just dropped it.”
What happened next? The Jays tied the game 3-3, and Texas actually got a couple of outs.
That set the stage for one of the more memorable moments from last year’s post-season, apparently Rougned Odor’s worst nightmare. Jose Bautista, with a swing of the bat and a momentary lapse in discretion as he flipped it, showed that pressure performers advance in the post-season while chokers don’t.
And make no mistake about it – Texas absolutely choked.
Choking, in my view, describes losing via a clear mental meltdown. It’s a term that gets overused because a lot of teams that simply get beat are often described as chokers even when they don’t have an epic fail. However, not every lost series or big game is lost due to weak nerves, fear, or inability to perform in the tense moments. I think sometimes commentators call losses “chokes” for the wrong reasons.
Yet the 2015 Rangers were first-degree chokers. For everything that was made of Bill Buckner’s 1986 error, Moreland and Andrus had much easier plays that they just didn’t execute. Those two players are still with the Rangers heading into the 2016 post-season, and that could be a bad thing.
Epic chokes, like the kind that the Rangers went through last year, can get into your head. When the tense moments of the upcoming post-season return the confidence could leave this team again. Accordingly, some of the mental fortitude required to play at the highest level could be missing with Texas.
The other division leaders in the American League are yet to clinch. However, the Boston Red Sox will at least be in the Wild-Card game. With a huge lead over second-placed Toronto, Boston are clear favorites to clinch the AL East soon. I see the Red Sox as the team to beat in the AL, and that’s the way that the betting trends have started to go as well (i.e.,. Boston and Texas are now co-favorites for the AL title with William Hill following a lengthy period that saw Texas as the solo favorites).
There are a lot of players with Boston that were with the club in 2013 when they won the World Series. Furthermore, the Red Sox are riding high right now following their 10th straight win on Saturday. The divisional series match-ups are still up in the air, but I’m thinking Boston beats whoever they play in that round….and whoever they play in the ALCS as well.