In the second of our six-part series, we’re staying on the west coast to look at the home of the American League champions.
|Russ||Mariners (WC: Angels)|
Texas Rangers (90-72)
You cannot lose in a World Series and feel anything but deep disappointment, especially if you’ve never won a World Series before. As a player, manager, Front Office member or a fan, winning the World Series is the holy grail because, as the old baseball saying goes, “flags fly forever”. And while that goes for American League championship flags too, they don’t have the same prestige as a World Series flag. By their definition, a championship flag is a public display not just of triumph, but also of defeat.
I’m sure the disappointment will not have gone away yet, but hopefully over the offseason the Rangers will put their incredible year into perspective and see it for the great success that it was.
Yes, the AL West was a fairly weak competition in 2010, but the Rangers still had to win it and they showed that the division was far from the height of their ambition by going out mid-season and acquiring Cliff Lee from the Mariners. It was a Texas Hold ‘Em ‘all in’ approach and it very nearly paid off in the ultimate way.
Many assume that Cliff Lee will sign with the New York Yankees over the offseason. However, the Rangers signed a monumental TV deal a few months ago with Fox Sports Southwest and, combined with the interest and money created by a World Series appearance, Texas might just shock everyone and convince Lee to stay. If Lee does depart for the Bronx, the Rangers will need to fill that considerable gap because it might be asking too much to expect C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis to perform quite as brilliantly as they did in 2010.
They’ve got the wherewithal to do that and with MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Neftali Feliz all in place, the Rangers have a strong core that should mean their postseason foray in 2010 will not be one-off.
Oakland A’s (81-81)
The last ten games of the A’s season summed up their year. They were going along nicely until a six-game losing streak threatened to end the season in feeble fashion, only to sweep a four-game set against the Mariners to finish the year at .500. At times they were poor, largely thanks to a punch-less offence; at times they were brilliant. It evened out over the year, breaking their run of three losing seasons since winning the West in 2006, and the hope is that this was a stepping stone onto better things.
Whether that materialises depends on General Manager Billy Beane’s ability to put together an offence to go with the impressive young pitching staff (Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Andrew Bailey etc) that the A’s now boast. That’s much easier said than done when you haven’t got much money and play in a ballpark and market that is less than inspiring. Much as moving a team seems abhorrent to British sports fans, the A’s are stuck in limbo until Bud Selig finally wakes up and decides if they can move to San Jose or not. Until then, Beane will just have to try and impress potential players with his “I’m being played by Brad Pitt in an upcoming film, y’know” patter.
All of which would make you think that the A’s season could be labelled as a mere transitional year, but this A’s fan would be quick to correct you. Watching the young pitchers blossom was a real treat and who could forget the year that Dallas Braden had? He was the ‘little man’ who took a stand against A-Rod, was subsequently rounded-on by the full force of the corporate beast (the ‘big team’ obsessed sports networks, the New York press, A-Rod himself) and then waved two fingers back by pitching a perfect game in one of the highlights from the year.
Listening to the game via the A’s radio commentary on a British Sunday night was a surreal pleasure: unable to keep still due to the nervous tension, holding my breath every time the commentators said he was in the wind-up, the outpouring of joy when the final out was made. It was the sort of unlikely, magical moment that sport conjures up every now and then; the sort of moment that makes us sports fans in the first place.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (80-82)
The Angels’ 2010 season showed that success is cyclical in MLB, regardless of resources and commitment. They have an excellent manager, a productive scouting network and farm system, a considerable budget and an owner prepared to do all he can to help the team win without being reckless. However, after three consecutive division titles, several key players left the team and that was enough to knock them off course.
The departure of those players might not have been quite so dramatic as first seems. Vlad Guerrero played a key role in getting the Texas Rangers to the World Series (something not undermined by failing to hit well in a small number of Fall Classic at-bats), but neither John Lackey or Chone Figgins had particularly impressive first years with their new teams, so plugging them back into the 2010 Angels season wouldn’t necessarily have put them back in the AL West race. It was more a case of one era coming to an end and the team needing to take stock and build for another run.
That process started with the mid-season acquisition of Dan Haren and he forms a potent 1-2 punch alongside Jered Weaver, who flourished under the new responsibility of being the staff ace in 2010. The Hot Stove rumours have them as one of the favourites in the race to sign Carl Crawford and if the Rangers become complacent over the offseason, it’s possible that the Angels could get themselves back into the mix in a hurry.
Seattle Mariners (61-101)
The Seattle Mariners made offseason headlines by trading for Cliff Lee, signing one of the top free agents in Chone Figgins and signing a contract extension with Felix Hernandez, starting a bandwagon that many jumped on to. They were cited as genuine contenders, admittedly in what most considered to be a relatively weak division.
Instead, the Mariners fell to pieces. Lee was traded, Ken Griffey Jr retired in ignominious fashion, manager Don Wakamatsu was sacked and the team ended up losing 101 games. Hernandez apart (who fully deserved the AL Cy Young award, irrespective of his win total), never has a team promised so much and failed so badly.
Of course, the point is that the team never really held so much promise as was being made out. The Mariners were a good story and most of us (and although I didn’t pick them to win the division, I can’t say I was completely immune from it either) got swept along, overlooking the cracks in the roster and focusing on the potential carnage that a Cliff Lee-Felix Hernandez double-act could cause in the playoffs.
Will we learn a lesson from this saga? Probably not, but for all the importance (and enjoyment) of impartial analysis, misguided optimism and unrealistic dreams are as much a part of being a baseball fan as the beers and the hot-dogs. New manager Eric Wedge will try to pick up the pieces in 2011.