ARLINGTON, Texas -- For those of you searching for someone to blame for the fact that a second consecutive season ended in early disappointment for the Texas Rangers, get your mitts off the manager.
It’s not that Ron Washington won’t accept his share. He will. He’s always been that way. But don’t pin it all on a guy who managed to keep his club together and focused, even when the season started to get away from it.
How many teams would have recovered from the gut punch of a walk-off grand slam in Kansas City that pretty much locked up the AL West for the Oakland A's? But the Rangers came home and won seven straight games to force Game 163, only to have the season end with baserunning blunders and missed opportunities.
General manager Jon Daniels and his staff will undoubtedly go through a detailed analysis of what went wrong in 2013. The problems are many. This team was crushed by injuries, starting with former 18-game winner Matt Harrison. They were supposed to have Colby Lewis back in June, but the only time he took the mound for the Rangers this season was to throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to Monday’s game. Lance Berkman never did earn the $11 million the club paid him. Nelson Cruz’s 50-game suspension took a productive power bat out of the lineup for too long.
This team didn’t have enough in the lineup to consistently score runs, and the starting pitching depth was tested.
How much of that is the manager’s fault? In many ways, he should be lauded for managing to keep his team in the race for a playoff spot as long as he did. It helped that the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels were in the AL West for the Rangers to feast on. I’ll grant you that. But this team was fighting until the end, despite a disappearing act in early September that erased hope for a division title.
“He’s been on top of it all,” pitcher Derek Holland said about Washington’s leadership. “He doesn’t let any of the pressure get to us. He’s been behind us. He’s been pulling for us. He’s a great leader.
“He knows what to say, when to say it and how to say it.”
Consider how Washington utilized team meetings this season. The skipper doesn’t care for them. He understands you can’t overdo it as a manager when it comes to gathering your team as a group. But each time he did it this season -- and it was more than he would have liked -- he got results.
This is clearly a team still heeding Washington’s message. The Rangers were far from perfect, as Monday's adventures on the basepaths illustrated. But, all along, Washington has maintained that his team’s aggressive play on the bases sometimes results in mistakes. He lives with them because, more times than not, his runners make things happen with their legs. It was that type of baseball that helped them play well in August despite not having Cruz in the lineup.
I understand that Washington’s in-game management bothers fans. He goes with his gut about as often as he does the book, and he opens himself up for criticism as a result. He bunted a lot and too often this season; those bunts simply added up to outs rather than runs. He’s loyal. That can be good when his patience pays off and bad because it can also paralyze him.
But that’s the whole package that is Ron Washington, and it’s one that helped take this club to back-to-back World Series appearances and one that, I believe, can do it in the future.
“Everybody knows that he’s a great teacher, a great coach,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “He understands that. He was a player, too. He knows that some guys can take criticism right away and other guys he has to wait and handle it differently. Not too many managers know how to do that.”
That’s right. I’d get making a change if there were signs the manager’s message was getting lost. That’s not happening here.
Is Washington perfect? No. But good managers are tough to find. When you have one, you keep him. The Minnesota Twins, despite a terrible season, figured that out and retained Ron Gardenhire. The Tampa Bay Rays have had playoff disappointment since making the World Series in 2008, but they know they’ve got a great manager in Joe Maddon.
Washington is a great motivator and teacher. He understands people and how to manage a clubhouse. And he’s improved as the years have gone on.
Change is coming in Texas. This team has to figure out who will catch next season and who’s going to be at first base. They’ve got to add a bat or two and strengthen the rotation. But there’s no reason to change managers. He’s navigated two teams to the World Series. He can do it again.