Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cowlishaw: Rangers didn't choke, but Elvis Andrus and Derek Holland did

Feel-good stories simply do not end like this.The Little Mermaid doesn't drown in the final act. Beethoven doesn't get run over by a car.

The least likely team to reach the playoffs -- and, yes, they were less likely than the youthful Houston Astros, given how the Rangers' season began with the loss of Yu Darvish -- made as unceremonious an exit as any baseball team has ever endured. Three errors in one inning, with Elvis Andrus charged with two and connected to the third, and a misplay by Rougned Odor set the stage for Jose Bautista to make The Bat Flip That Won't Be Forgotten as Texas faded from the postseason picture.

Is losing the final three games of a Best-of-5 series, by definition, a choke? I would say yes in basketball, where the best players are the best players night after night, but not in baseball.

Toronto was a better team than the Rangers and proved as much during the regular season. The Rangers pitchers did a remarkable job of keeping those Toronto bats contained in the first two games but that wasn't going to last forever.

So did the team as a whole choke? No.

Did Elvis Andrus and Derek Holland choke? Absolutely.

I think those two players will bear the brunt of this defeat through the offseason. For Andrus, it's a shame because he had just reached a point in the final 2-3 months of this season where his name wasn't connected to his contract ($105 million for the next seven years) in everything written or said about him.

After two disappointing seasons, Andrus was pretty good this year. He should never bat second but manager Jeff Banister figured that out soon enough. But the errors were inexplicable and if they don't haunt him, they will certainly be attached to his reputation as surely as going to the wall in St. Louis became Nelson Cruz's final chapter as a Ranger.

Holland has reached the point where Rangers fans aren't sure what to make of him. How does that translate to the team and management? When you start going over the rotation for 2016, it begins with Cole Hamels, a healthy Yu Darvish at some point, Martin Perez ... and then what?

Do you still write Holland's name in there with the same certainty as before?

In the last two seasons, injuries have limited Holland to 15 starts -- mostly good ones in 2014 and poor ones this year. In both, his strikeouts have fallen off dramatically. After a 4.91 ERA this season and a no-show performance in Game 4 of the ALDS that was the antithesis to his World Series Game 4 night in 2011, where does Holland fit in with the team holding a $10 million option?

I think the third player to suffer lasting damage -- though not at the same level -- has to be Prince Fielder. He did manage to end an incredible streak of 84 postseason at-bats without driving home a run by grounding out to score Delino DeShields in the first inning Wednesday.

For the most part, the Rangers' power bats did not show up in this series and while others were just as invisible (Mitch Moreland went 0-for-13), Fielder is paid to be the leader of this group.

Five playoff teams including Toronto have eight or more home runs. The Mets have six going into Game 5 at Los Angeles on Thursday night. The Rangers hit three, and the Dodgers have two.

Look at it this way. The Rangers were trying to compete with the best slugging team in baseball. They took the lead in Game 5 on a fluke play no one on the field (including home plate ump Dale Scott) could readily say was legal. They lost the lead on about a 450-foot blast by Joey Bats.

That's why I can't look at this series and call out Banister -- almost certain to be named AL Manager of the Year -- for much of anything other than not starting Mike Napoli in place of Moreland on Wednesday. Right-handed hitters have fared better than lefties against Toronto's Marcus Stroman this year and even before. And Napoli has a knack for the big moment.

Limiting him to one pinch-hit at-bat with the bases empty was like diffusing one of the Rangers' weapons. Doing it to preserve Moreland's bat in the lineup was nonsense.

Against the Blue Jays, the Rangers did not have enough. There's no shame in that. It was a terrific season beyond all expectations. But the ignominious ending diminished Andrus and Holland, and they have to dig their way back out in 2016 to begin to restore their reputations.

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