On June 30, the A's were under .500 and 13 games out of first place in the American League West.
On October 3, they became division champions and sent the Rangers to an ignoble place in the Wild Card winner-moves-on-loser-cries showdown that is proving to be a boon to the hyphen industry. No team has ever spent more days in first place by themselves over the course of a season and wound up not winning the division, so this is the kind of a turnaround that demands a lot of analysis.
In honor of that June gap, we've come up with 13 reasons why the Rangers must win a game on Friday or see their entire season go up in smoke well before anyone expected.
1. Don't make this all about the Rangers. They weren't as good in the last three months as they were in the first three months, but they didn't have a losing record. The A's were just unimaginably good for a really long stretch that saw them continually rally their way to wins when it looked like the magic had worn off. They won this as much, if not more, than the Rangers lost it.
2. Josh Hamilton's error on Wednesday wasn't the only reason why the Rangers lost that game, but the massive swing in win expectancy created by his blunder can't be avoided when talking about the final score. It seems unfair that whole seasons can be partially decided by one play that no one would remember if it happened in the middle of August, but baseball's probably not your game if fairness is your chief concern.
3. Similarly, Hamilton's rancid July can't be the only thing blamed for the team's 9-14 record that month, but it's hard to miss the correlation between the record and the complete no-show by Hamilton for an entire month of the season.
4. The Rangers made two moves to bolster their pitching staff this season and neither one worked out. Roy Oswalt pitched poorly and then became a constant source of distraction as the team moved him out of the rotation and fiddled with his role.
5. Ryan Dempster joined the team a little bit later and he has a 7-3 record to show for his efforts. That's a pretty good indication of why won-loss records don't tell us all that much because Dempster's barely been average since coming to the Rangers. Wednesday's game against Oakland was another reminder that he has also been particularly bad when faced with strong competiion.
6. Ian Kinsler's second half numbers: .229 batting average, .308 on-base percentage, .399 slugging percentage. His defense was also a problem all season.
7. Michael Young's full year numbers: .277/.312/.370 with eight home runs. The Rangers found those efforts worthy of 651 plate appearances, many of which came with Young playing the field despite the fact that he hasn't shown much ability in that arena for years.
8. That leads us to Ron Washington's managerial style which remains a bit too much about Washington's "gut" and too little about empirical evidence. Young kept his job because his name is Michael Young and because of his past, two things that shouldn't enter the mind of a manager once Memorial Day rolls around.
9. Mike Napoli's injury took a pretty significant source of power out of the lineup for a healthy chunk of the season and Geovany Soto wasn't able to fill the hole nearly well enough. The Rangers' run production dropped sharply in the second half and Napoli's absence had a lot to do with it.
10. Injuries hurt all teams so they aren't an excuse for the Rangers, but they are an explanation. Losing Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis, Robbie Ross, Napoli and others for big stretches made it much harder for the Rangers to protect their lead in the final months of the season.
11. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish did their part, but Derek Holland's performance didn't show any growth to the next step that the Rangers were hoping to see when they extended his contract. If anything, he took a step backward as evidenced by a sharp drop on opponents' batting average on balls in play without better results.
12. Hearing someone wonder what Nelson Cruz could do if healthy for an entire season has been a familiar refrain since he got to Texas. It's doubtful that anyone thought that a full year of Cruz would actually be as massively disappointing as this year has been for the outfielder. He's not actually worse than he was last year, but he doesn't have any injury excuse to explain the big drop from 2010 this time around.
13. The Angels might not have made the playoffs, but their improvement from 2011 coupled with the rise of the A's made life much more difficult in the AL West. In the last two years, the Rangers have been able to beat up on the division to build their record but this year was much more balanced and, as a result, the Rangers left a lot of wins on the table.