ARLINGTON – Somewhere, in the realm of optimism inside Chris Woodward’s brain, there’s a part of him that hopes his team can reel off one of those magical winning streaks. You know, a run of victories that other teams have managed to find this season, even though his team hasn’t come close.
Shrouding that realm of optimism, though, is the overwhelming reality of where his Rangers sit almost midway through August: way out of any potential playoff push, but not without something to gain.
“To get these valuable reps, and to go through this experience right now, is very important,” Woodward said before Friday’s game. “Because we’re still pushing to win. We have to figure out how to solve that winning mentality every day.”
On Friday, Woodward’s team attempted to find that winning way without him, only to find a similar result instead.
The Rangers lost to the Seattle Mariners 6-2 on Friday in the opener of their home stand.
Woodward, for the first time this season, was ejected by umpire Jerry Meals after arguing a strike call in the bottom of the 4th inning.
“I know they’re not going to be perfect, but when I feel like it’s one-sided, and we’re getting calls against us and not for us, obviously I try to do what I can to keep that from continuing,” Woodward said after the game, adding that he usually gives umpires slack for a tough job. “And that happened so blatantly early on it was enough to make the case there ... I just thought it was pretty egregious.”
Seattle rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez came off the IL just in time to hurt the Rangers once again, finishing with two RBIs.
The Rangers had a chance to tie the game in the seventh, but Corey Seager popped out with runners on the corners. It didn’t matter much in the long run, though. The Rangers bullpen allowed three runs in the last two innings to put the game out of reach.
The Rangers dropped to 49-63 overall.
Clearly, that whole figuring out how to win thing is still a work in progress. Still, despite that, it gives the Rangers something to aspire and chase for the last 50 games of the season. It gives them something to play for in another transition from summer to fall that likely doesn’t include the thrill of a potential postseason.
To chase it, the Rangers are taking a balanced approach. They’ve called up former first round picks in Cole Ragans and Bubba Thompson, hoping to get a look at some players that could bloom in 2023 and beyond. At this point, they also plan to utilize veterans who may not fit into long-term plans, but do bring some value to the current team – even if their value in the clubhouse may outweigh their value on the field.
Translation: even in a season likely lost, there’s some value in not diving into a full-fledged youth movement at every roster spot.
“I don’t want somebody who’s not productive just for the sake of having a clubhouse presence, but yes, they are vital to what we’re trying to do.” Woodward said when asked about giving playing time to veterans over younger guys with potential. “We’ve seen the last couple of years when we didn’t have a veteran presence, and we didn’t have a shoulder to lean on.”
Those shoulders come with experience, Woodward pointed out, and those experiences could be beneficial for younger players trying to find their way in the big leagues. Woodward has previously pointed out how valuable a pitcher like Martín Pérez – in his 10th season – can be to a rookie like Ragans, who is two starts into his career. Both struggled in Houston; Pérez, in theory, can not only help himself bounce back, but Ragans, too.
And speaking of last season, let’s look at the starting lineup from game No. 112, the same point the Rangers reached on Friday. Only three players – Adolis Garcia, Nathaniel Lowe and Jonah Heim – still remain. Only two others – Isaiah Kiner-Falefa and Jordan Lyles – are currently on MLB rosters. Andy Ibanez is at Triple-A Round Rock, Yonny Hernandez is in Triple-A with the Arizona Diamondbacks, D.J. Peters is playing with the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball League, and Jason Martin and Brock Holt are unsigned.
Sometimes opportunity doesn’t lead to long-term chances.
In the long-term, the Rangers are hoping this core they’ve started to assemble can figure out how to win. On Friday, they attempted it mostly without their manager, only to find a similar result.
“We don’t have the margin for error to make a few mistakes and get away with it,” Woodward said.
On Twitter: @JoeJHoyt