Rangers take unique route to World Series

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The Rangers have earned their first trip to the World Series. And they didn’t do it with mirrors, either. They defeated the team with the American League’s best record during the ALDS and last year’s World Series champions in the ALCS. Without question, they were the best hitting team in the American League during the playoffs and the best pitching team. They are exactly where they belong.

We’ll have plenty of time to talk about what happens next, but let’s not forget where this team — and this franchise — came from.

What better place to start than with the redemption story of Game 6 starter Colby Lewis. He was originally drafted by the Rangers as a supplemental first-round pick in 1999, but shoulder surgery derailed his first stint with the team. Lewis eventually headed to Japan in 2008 after posting a 6.71 ERA over his first 72 games (34 starts) in the majors. Finally healthy, he found himself back on the radar of major league general managers while pitching with the Hiroshima Carp. Despite being courted by several teams, Lewis eventually returned to Texas on a two-year, $5 million contract. 11 years after he was originally drafted, the 31-year-old right-hander posted a 3.72 ERA during the regular season and pitched the Rangers to the World Series in Game 6 on Friday night. It’s almost too good to be true.

We’re all familiar with the story of Josh Hamilton by now, so I don’t need to rehash it all here. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels took a real leap of faith when he acquired the talented-but-troubled outfielder from the Reds in exchange for Edinson Volquez and Daniel Herrera in December of 2007. There have been some bumps along the way — Hamilton relapsed in early 2009 and has struggled to stay healthy at times — but we’re seeing why Tampa Bay selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft. He was just named the ALCS MVP and could be adding some more hardware later this fall.

Rangers manager Ron Washington has had to battle some demons of his own since testing positive for cocaine last summer. When the story was first made public back in March, there was a real danger that Washington could have lost the team, but instead they have rallied around him. Nobody will ever mistake Washington for a tactical genius — see his bullpen usage during the ALCS — but his players have done nothing but praise his attitude and leadership skills during this postseason run.

Keep in mind that just a few months ago, the future of the franchise was still very much in limbo. Hamstrung from any additional spending by major league baseball, general manager Jon Daniels was somehow able to swoop in and acquire Cliff Lee from the Mariners when everybody thought he was going to the Yankees. One trade single-handedly moved the Rangers from a legitimate contender to an elite postseason force. The eventual sale of the franchise to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan put an exclamation point on the Rangers’ first division title since 1999.

There was something symbolic about Alex Rodriguez making the final out in Game 6 on Friday night, but I didn’t take it as poetic justice or revenge. Instead, I saw it as the official act of waving goodbye to a previous era. Finally breaking ties with a past regime that believed in buying success rather than banking on the strength of individual will and the concept of team.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.