Sunday's ending in Seattle was a surprising way to end what was looking like a very solid road trip for the Texas Rangers. And in many ways it was still solid, sweeping the Oakland A's and finishing the six games tied with the A's for first.
But like so many things in life, it's how you finish and not how you start (ask the Dallas Stars this morning). The Rangers open a three-game series tonight with the A's. It's a good time to have Yu Darvish on the mound after the eighth-inning meltdown Sunday. Actually, Texas had two eighth-inning meltdowns in the series in Seattle, which cost them a chance to take the AL West lead all by themselves.
The great thing about baseball is that there are so many opportunities to make decisions that have ripple effects. While the discussion can be fun and the strategy intriguing, it's also a reminder of how difficult it is to be a big-league manager. One decision to pitch to a certain batter or put a particular pitcher in the game can decide things, both good and bad.
Manager Ron Washington (along with his coaching staff) was in that position late in Sunday's game. The Mariners had chipped away at the lead and Washington was hoping to give his winning bullpen pieces a day off. Up 5-0, that looked promising. It was 5-2 when Shawn Tolleson came in and it became a two-run game fairly quickly after that.
So do you go with Jason Frasor in the seventh inning when it's a two-run game? Washington said no. He explained afterward that other pitchers have to get outs in the bullpen. That it can't always come down to the same arms, who risked being overworked. The skipper is right, of course. And April is the time to find some of that out. He did that with Aaron Poreda on Saturday and it worked. But when the other arms don't get it done and a 5-0 lead dwindles, it's natural for criticism to follow.
As for the eighth inning, Alexi Ogando came in and for two batters looked tremendous. The slider on 0-2 to Corey Hart was nasty. But he gave up a long double to Justin Smoak and then the Mariners kept the inning going with a well-placed chopper. Later in the inning, Ogando threw an awful pitch to Kyle Seager, who didn't miss it for the go-ahead three-run homer.
With runners at first and third and two outs, walking Seager wasn't an option. You can't put the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run on base in that situation. Who would have believed that in late April, you could argue that this club missed Pedro Figueroa on Sunday? If the hard-throwing lefty is in the pen, wouldn't he have come in to face Seager?
There's another arm on the disabled list that could help this bullpen: Tanner Scheppers. The right-hander couldn't seem to avoid the big inning as a starter. But if healthy, Scheppers could help this bullpen in his old job as an eighth-inning setup man. After two blown leads in three games in the eighth in Seattle, the Rangers could use him.
In many ways, this bullpen has exceeded expectations. It was the better group in Oakland against the A's last week. But depth is critical in the pen and that's still fluid as Washington tries to figure out where certain pieces fit and who he can trust in various situations. Sometimes the losses can provide even more answers than the wins.