CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Rangers not far off from winning it all

Rangers not far off from winning it all

Rangers not far off from winning it all
ST. LOUIS -- The Arlington Bridesmaids? No, the Texas Rangers deserve better than that, and perhaps in an October in the near future, they can earn it for themselves.

There are 28 teams still wishing they were in Texas' current position: two league championships in a row. But there is one club with no envy directed toward any other team. That would be the Cardinals, 2011 World Series champions; winners over the Rangers in seven games.

Texas clearly established its level of talent and its ability to win. The Rangers were better this year than they were in 2010. With the impressive organizational talent that general manager Jon Daniels and his staff have assembled, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the club is going to fall off a cliff and disappear deep into the ranks of second-tier teams.

The Rangers now have a stable ownership. They are headed into a lucrative local television deal. They have greatly expanded their fan base. For valid on-field and organizational reasons, these two seasons of American League championships should be merely the beginning of a run of success.

But after two straight World Series defeats, this last one a truly painful experience -- based on twice being within one strike of winning the championship -- the questions naturally occur: What will it take for the Rangers to make that one last step? Are they fated to be the Atlanta Braves of the early 21st century: an extraordinary regular-season club but not a complete postseason success?

Bridesmaids
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is just one of seven cities waiting for their first World Series crown.
City First season Seasons Furthest round reached
Houston 1962 50 2005 World Series
San Diego 1969 43 1984 and '98 World Series
Dallas-Fort Worth 1972 40 2010 and '11 World Series
Seattle 1977 35 1995, 2000 and '01 ALCS
Denver 1993 19 2007 World Series
Tampa-St. Pete 1998 14 2008 World Series

If you look at the circumstances of the Cards' victory, explanations and rationalizations sometimes merge. What might seem like a shortcoming for the Rangers also can appear simultaneously as a valid excuse.

The Rangers didn't win Game 7 because they didn't have one postseason starter with the stature of the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter. Their nominal ace, C.J. Wilson, certainly wasn't "The Man" in this postseason. Colby Lewis has been their best starter overall in the past two postseasons, but he did not succeed in the pivotal Game 6. Derek Holland produced the single-best start of anybody in this World Series, but inconsistent performances earlier in the postseason left him in the No. 4 slot, rather than the No. 3, for the Series. Matt Harrison was more consistent earlier in the postseason, but his two starts here turned out to be in the close-but-not-quite category.

Maybe the Wednesday night rainout, which allowed Carpenter to pitch Game 7 on short rest, was actually the turning point in the entire World Series. Maybe Texas doesn't lose to anybody other than Carpenter in Game 7.

But it was Carpenter, pitching on three days' rest, in Game 7. He gave up three hits and a walk to the first four hitters he faced, but then bowed his neck, dug in his heels and gave up nothing more through six-plus innings. Carpenter is a proven postseason winner, unbeaten in his postseason starts at Busch Stadium.

You don't get to this point overnight. The current Rangers club is only in its second season as a postseason competitor. But as part of the growth process, somebody will have to step up and seize the role of postseason No. 1. Carpenter was not even in peak form for this Series, but he was good enough, resolute enough, stubborn enough to hold Texas at two runs long enough for his colleagues with the bats to produce enough runs to win.

In the same vein, the Rangers' bullpen, so sturdy earlier, was simply not good enough in Games 6 and 7. Game 6 will be recorded in baseball history as one of the most dramatic postseason games ever played. But for Texas, it will be an epic tale of lost leads, of bullpen shortcomings, of twice coming within one strike of a championship, only to eventually suffer defeat.

"I wish they would have continued to be dominant," manager Ron Washington said of his relievers. "I wish I did have the answer. I don't. You know, those are the guys that got us here, and those guys [were] in position to take us further, and it didn't get done. And that's it."

This may simply be a matter of experience. Nobody doubts, for instance, the talent of closer Neftali Feliz. But pitching under the extreme exposure and pressure of a World Series cannot be practiced, explained or anticipated. It arrives and the competitors either rise or fall. The experience may be painful in the short term, but at the same time, it can't hurt over the long haul.

After the Game 7 defeat, Washington said he told his players, "That I felt like they are champions, although we didn't get the World Series trophy. Those guys committed themselves to get here this year and win this, and they did it. A lot of times, it's nothing but talk, but it wasn't talk in that Texas Rangers' clubhouse. We just didn't get it done. We got beat by a good club."

The Rangers have the talent to win the whole thing, and they have the organizational structure to remain among baseball's best teams. Maybe these first two World Series have included growing pains, but what they need to take the final step is a true postseason ace at the top of the rotation and a supporting cast of pitchers who can hold their best form in the white-hot spotlight of the World Series.

The Rangers are close, close, close to that level. Most clubs only wish they could get this close. But the last step in this process is also the most difficult step.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{}
{}