By Derek Reed
PSDC Texas Rangers Correspondent
What a season.
Yeah, it ended in frustration and disappointment. Three errors, followed by a loud boom and the bat flip that will sit right next to visions of David Freese in the memory of Ranger fans forever. But, what a season.
Before saying goodbye to this season, let’s take a second and hop back to the end of last season, where Texas lost 95 games and finished with the worst record in the American League. Now let’s ask a question. “Would you be satisfied as a fan if the Rangers made it to the ALDS in 2015, but were eliminated in Game 5?” I don’t think anybody would say no to that. Going from worst to West Division Champions and nine outs away from returning to the American League Championship Series is quite the turnaround.
But, it was right there for the taking and it popped out of their gloves…three times in a row. That’s what makes it hard to swallow.
You’ve got to feel bad for Elvis though. He’s made those plays thousands of times before. They’re routine at any level of baseball. But for some reason, he didn’t make those plays in the seventh inning last week. Even the ball Moreland threw in the dirt to second base. Mitch gets the error on that play and deservedly so, but a good shortstop can pick that ball 9 out of 10 times.
Then, when you think the game’s over, the Rangers are given one final chance to save their season and Elvis gets a shot to redeem himself. But, representing the tying run with two outs in the eighth inning, Andrus went down swinging before smashing his bat into the ground and flinging his helmet in frustration.
After the game, Elvis said it’s the lowest he’s ever felt in his career and that he let the whole team and city down. Truth is…he did.
Now, even if he did make those plays, there’s no guarantee that Texas hangs on to a one-run lead against that powerful Toronto lineup. But bottom line, when the Rangers needed to make the routine plays, the Elvis we’d been watching for the last half of the season seemed to have left the building.
I’ve been known to criticize Elvis for being overrated, and I’ll stick to my guns on that. But he picked it up and played well in the second half of the season. Before the All-Star break the .270 career hitter was hitting at a weak .242 average and had an on-base percentage of just .301. He recorded only nine stolen bases while being thrown out five times.
After the break he hit at a .277 mark with a .320 on-base percentage. He stole 16 bases while only getting caught four times, and had more extra-base hits and RBI in the second half, even though he played in 12 fewer games. The defense was better too. He even went on an impressive streak of 35 consecutive games without an error. But the seventh inning of Game 5 was brutal.
Elvis will have to live with that for the entire offseason, if not longer. But, to quote a wise old monkey from the Lion King, “The past is in the past. You can either run from it, or learn from it.” Andrus needs to take this and learn from it. He’s got the talent to be an above-average shortstop, but I’d like to see him use this offseason to fine-tune his mental approach.
I’ve mentioned before that Elvis always has that big smile on his face and he’s always the first one over the rail congratulating someone else for getting the big hit. I’m not saying smiling and being jolly are bad things, but I’d like to see him get a little more serious and play with more of an edge. Like Rougned Odor. Like Adrian Beltre. When you watch Elvis play, it’s almost as if he’s playing in cruise control. Like he has that next gear, but he never shifts into it. Elvis needs to hit that gear. That’s my wish for him over the offseason. If he can do that, I’ll have more faith in him for the 2016 season.
I’m not placing the playoff elimination on Elvis. Texas had a 2-0 lead in the series and couldn’t get the job done. He drastically hurt their chances to win Game 5, but Elvis Andrus isn’t the only reason they lost to the Blue Jays.
And as bad as the loss to Toronto hurt, Ranger fans should be excited about next season. Here are just a few reasons why:
• Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. Darvish should be back at 100%. When was the last time the Rangers had two true aces of their caliber on the team? Have they ever had a duo this talented?
• Jeff Banister. He pulled this team through a terribly rough stretch at the beginning of the season. Remember that Wandy Rodriguez (4.90 ERA) and Ross Detwiler (7.12 ERA) combined to make 25 starts this season. Banister will eventually make many forget about Ron Washington, if he hasn’t already.
• The Bullpen. The Rangers finally put together a solid bullpen by the end of the season and should begin 2016 with it still intact. Shawn Tolleson, Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson and Keone Kela are solid arms coming in to relieve Ranger starters.
• Josh Hamilton. Yes, it may come as a surprise, but the former AL MVP can be a key contributor next year. You can tell he’s more comfortable in the baseball town of Arlington. No, he’s not going to blast 40 home runs or drive in 100 runs, but he’s still capable of doing something amazing every now and then. And the best part about it? The Angels are the ones paying him.
• Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo figured it out and finished the season playing some great baseball. They were huge reasons why Texas was able to come all the way back and win the West and should be important pieces in 2016.
• Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland will be coming off injury-free seasons in which they both put up solid numbers.
• Adrian Beltre.
Many feel that Texas was a year ahead of themselves this season. They (including myself) thought they would struggle this year and possibly contend for the division in 2016. However, Texas didn’t want to accept that, as they came out and did what many (including myself) didn’t think they could do. The only way I can describe how the Rangers were able to do what they did? They “never ever quit.”
What a season.
Follow Derek on Twitter: @TheDerekReed