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Rangers just miss playoffs for first time in four years

Streaky Texas club falters in September, drops tiebreaker to end injury-riddled season

ARLINGTON -- There are two ways to look at the 2013 Rangers and their season.

From one viewpoint, the season was a terrible disappointment. In two years, the Rangers have gone from a World Series team to a quick-exit club in the Wild Card Game and now to a team that did not make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. It does not matter that they won 91 games, including seven in a row in the final week, and forced their way into a tiebreaker game for the final American League Wild Card spot.

In the end, the Rangers did not make the playoffs, and that is not going to make anybody happy.

"It's a competitive industry," general manager Jon Daniels said. "The reality is you're either first or you're last."

Another viewpoint would be the Rangers did better than they had a right to expect given the circumstances and did well just getting to the final day of the season with a chance to make the playoffs. One would only be able to see that if not blinded by the success of the three previous seasons. The Rangers still lost only two more games than in 2012. They also won one more game than they did in '10, when they won the AL West and went to the World Series for the first time in club history.

They won games this year despite the offseason departures of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young ; despite former 18-game winner Matt Harrison missing almost the entire season and former All-Star starter Alexi Ogando missing half the season because of injuries; and despite missing their best power hitter for the final 50 games of the season when Nelson Cruz was suspended.

But as manager Ron Washington said, it's hard to analyze all that when the standings simply show the Rangers will be home for October.

"I don't think people care why you go from there to here, because all they've realized over the past three years is [winning]," Washington said, "Of course they'll get upset when it gets here. They don't really care about that. All they care about is winning. For me, anything less than that is an excuse, and I don't make excuses.

"The adversity that we've had, I don't have to explain that. Everybody knows it, so then they got to form their own opinion. We expect to make the playoffs. I don't think nobody in this organization expects anything less, so I don't think we should expect the fans to think anything less. Sometimes it doesn't happen."

The Rangers were a streaky team in 2013, but they got off to a great start that included a 10-4 victory against the Tigers on May 16. At that point, the Rangers had the best record (27-14) in baseball and a seven-game lead in the AL West, and the rest of the division was below .500.

But that was also the same day the Rangers placed Ogando on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. He joined Harrison, who went down for the season with a back injury after making just two starts. Three days later, second baseman Ian Kinsler was lost for 28 days with a strained rib-cage muscle.

The roller-coaster ride had only just begun. By June 16, the Rangers dropped 10 games in the standings and were three games behind the Athletics. By the end of the month, the Rangers had won 10 of 13, including a three-game sweep of the Cardinals in St. Louis, and were back in first place.

The second half was more of the same. The Rangers acquired pitcher Matt Garza from the Cubs on July 22 to fortify their rotation, but lost outfielder Cruz to a 50-game suspension on Aug. 4 for violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment policy. They reacted by acquiring outfielder Alex Rios from the White Sox during a stretch in which they won 22 of 28 games. That surge began with three straight walk-off wins against the Angels on home runs from Geovany Soto, Leonys Martin and Adrian Beltre.

Then there was the slump in early September, the late winning streak to force the tiebreaker and the final disappointing loss to the Rays on Monday night that brought the Rangers' season to a disappointing end far short of their stated goal.

Record: 91-72, second in AL West

Defining moment: On Aug. 30, the Rangers had a three-game lead in the division. They also had a 2-0 lead on the Twins as Yu Darvish took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Then he gave up a two-run home run to Chris Herrmann and a solo home run to Justin Morneau. The Rangers lost the game, 3-2, and their late-season slide was underway.

What went right: Joe Nathan led one of the best bullpens in Rangers history and was named an All-Star for the sixth time in his career. His supporting cast was excellent, including right-handers Tanner Scheppers, Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria. … Left-hander Neal Cotts pitched in the Majors for the first time since 2009 and was outstanding. … Darvish and Derek Holland both threw more than 200 innings for the first time in their careers. Both had moments of brilliance, including two shutouts from Holland and Darvish coming within one out of a perfect game in his second start. ... Rookie Martin Perez was outstanding in the rotation over the final two months. … The Rangers used 13 rookies, and former No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar saw the most extensive playing time of his career. … Martin showed flashes of being the center fielder of the future. … A.J. Pierzynski and Soto formed a solid combination behind the plate. … Kinsler set a club record for career stolen bases and Elvis Andrus, who was terrific over the final two months, signed a long-term contract.

What went wrong: Injuries to Harrison and Ogando were huge blows to the rotation. … Nick Tepesch surprised everybody by winning a spot in the rotation, but missed most of the second half with an arm injury. … Lance Berkman could not overcome physical problems to become the run producer the Rangers needed at designated hitter. … Cruz was lost for 50 games. …David Murphy struggled all season offensively. … The Rangers had trouble scoring runs because of a serious reduction in power and long stretches of not being able to hit with runners in scoring position. … The Rangers beat up on AL West opponents, but had trouble with the rest of baseball. … The Rangers ended up having little to show for Young, who was traded to the Phillies last winter and was missed offensively.

Biggest surprise: How fast the Rangers fell apart in early September during a stretch in which they lost 15 of 20 games. That 20-game stretch cost them much in a season with dramatic highs and lows.

Hitter of the Year: Beltre had another excellent season to include on his Hall of Fame resume. He was the Rangers Player of the Month in May, July and August.

Pitcher of the Year: Nathan was outstanding as the closer. The bullpen was the Rangers' biggest strength and Nathan was the anchor at the end, converting 43 of 46 save opportunities.

Rookie of the Year: Perez, long considered the Rangers' top pitching prospect, fulfilled those high expectations by winning 10 games and earning a long-term spot in the rotation.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.

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