ARLINGTON, Texas — Life can come at a team fast when its season is only 60 games and things start to go down the drain only a third of the way into it.
The Texas Rangers were 10-9 and in the thick of the postseason picture Aug. 15. They immediately lost their next eight games.
In the span of eight straight days of losing, the franchise was forced to veer onto a road that needs to be rebuilt.
That’s how quickly the season changed for the worse.
The Rangers went only 12-29 beginning Aug. 16, posted the worst road record in baseball (6-24), and finished with the second-worst record (22-38) in the most unusual season in baseball history.
That might be the good news.
The Rangers weren’t bad enough to secure the No. 1 overall pick, which will go to the 19-win Pittsburgh Pirates. The Rangers’ payroll for 2021 will be slashed, general manager Jon Daniels has said, and the same cast of out-of-place rookies and struggling holdovers will be back, presumably for 162 games.
A fifth straight losing season is on the horizon.
Yet, on the final day of the 2020 season, Chris Woodward offered hope. The Rangers’ manager and No. 1 cheerleader gave fans reasons to pay close attention next season as the Rangers move deeper into their latest overhaul.
“There’s a lot to be excited about if you watch the style of our play and the guys we’re bringing up,” Woodward said. “You don’t have to go out and sign guys for $20 million. Hopefully you start to create these guys who are $20 million players. When we get Leody Taveras, Anderson Tejeda and some of the young guys coming up and impacting our club the way they have, it’s exciting.”
Taveras, Tejeda and Sam Huff were the key prospects in the lineup Sunday as the Rangers finished the season with an 8-4 victory over Houston Astros, who became the second team in history to make the playoffs with a losing record (29-31).
Rougned Odor swatted two homers, including a three-run shot in a five-run fourth inning that erased a 3-1 deficit. The bullpen issued two runs over six innings in relief of Jordan Lyles, who allowed two runs in his final start of a disappointing first season with the Rangers.
The highlight of the game was the Rangers’ first batter, Shin-Soo Choo, who was activated from the injured list for what could be his final game with the Rangers and possibly his career.
Choo, still unable to swing a bat because of a bruised wrist, beat out a bunt for a single. He twisted his ankle as he lunged for first base and had to be removed from the game, but the veteran got what he wanted to end the season.
He entered the dugout to a procession of hugs from teammates and coaches, and his wife and three children watched from the stands. Choo didn’t know they were there.
“That’s a really big moment for me,” he said. “I’ll never forget today.”
But in a year in which not much went right, the Rangers’ season followed suit.
Players who struggled from the outset felt the need to circumvent the time constraints of a shortened season and only made things worse. Players who needed to perform didn’t. Players who were given a chance couldn’t perform consistently.
An offense bereft of firepower couldn’t overcome all the individual breakdowns. Slow-starting veteran pitchers turned a preseason strength into a weakness. Injuries only made things worse.
Veterans were traded away. Prospects were recalled and given prominent roles.
Many of them made favorable impressions but could be headed to the minor leagues to start next season. Taveras, though, is likely to be in center field when next season opens April 1 at Kansas City.
He capped the Rangers’ five-run fourth with a two-run single, and raced around the bases for a run in the seventh. Taveras dropped a bunt for a leadoff single, and on consecutive pitches stole second and third. The throw to get him at third went into left field, and he jogged home.
Huff finished as the hottest prospect at the plate. He drove in the Rangers’ first run with a two-out single in the second and ended the season on a six-game hitting streak. Despite his strong close to the season, he could start 2021 in the minors after jumping from Class A to the majors this season.
So did Tejeda, Kyle Cody, Sherten Apostel and John King. Tejeda and Cody have strong cases to be on the Opening Day, though Tejeda would have to beat out veteran Elvis Andrus.
The promise of competition has Woodward revved up for spring training. The promise shown by the young players who auditioned for the 2021 roster over the final six weeks also has Woodward excited.
He thinks Rangers fans should be, too.
“The best thing I can say to fans is the growth and the maturity level of these kids is what they should be most excited about, because they’re invested,” Woodward said. “Now, there will be some bumps. Don’t get me wrong. We’re going to have to deal with that. But we’re going to be exciting to watch. We’re going to play the game the right way. We’re going to play hard.”
And hopefully better.
The Rangers’ season is over.
©2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram