ST. PETERSBURG -- There’s a universe out there where the Rangers are sitting back in the Metroplex right now, resting for four days before the ALDS after winning the AL West on Sunday. This isn’t that universe.
The Rangers, who spent a whopping 159 days of the season in first place, finished in a tie for the AL West lead, with Houston taking the division crown via tiebreaker.
So instead of heading home with a first-round bye and home-field advantage, the Rangers woke up after a cross-country flight from Seattle to St. Petersburg, ready to face the Rays in a best-of-three Wild Card Series.
General manager Chris Young, speaking to the media on Monday at Tropicana Field, noted that the last week felt almost like an emotional roller coaster from start to finish.
“Certainly just getting into the playoffs was significant for us,” Young said. “We wanted to win the division, we came up short, but the reality is that it doesn't matter at this point. We're here with a chance to compete for a World Series and that's what our goal was coming into Spring Training. Our guys have worked their tails off to be in this position and we’re very proud of the way the group has come together and put themselves in this position. ... It's been a lot of travel but we're energized and we're excited for the series.”
It could be difficult to bounce back after the emotional highs and lows the Rangers went through in Seattle, but they are embracing the challenge.
“I think as baseball players, we're kind of geared to do that,” said Jordan Montgomery, who is scheduled to start Game 1 on the mound. “We play 162 games, it's a long season. If you get down after every loss, it's gonna be a miserable long year. So I think most of the guys are pretty even keeled and kind of understand that that's in the past.”
The vibe isn’t down, despite the disappointment of losing the division. The Rangers know everything is still in front of them, and having to play a Wild Card Series is just an extra stop.
The road to the World Series is just a little bit harder now, first with a Rays team that got off to an historic start to the year and then an Orioles team that won 101 games awaiting the winner of this Wild Card Series for the ALDS.
“Baseball is a game of short memory,” said rookie Evan Carter. “We're in the playoffs. This is where we're at, this is what we're working with. You can't do anything about where we're at. So all we can do now is just try and beat the Rays.”
This is a team that was built for this moment. From big-name free agents like Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, to big-time trades like Montgomery and homegrown stars like Carter, Josh Jung and Leody Taveras, Texas has proven this year that it can compete with the best in the American League.
“It's a resilient team and I think we've had our share of ups and downs,” Young said. “We've certainly seen a number of injuries that have impacted us. Yet here we are in the playoffs, which is a big step forward for our franchise and for our organization. We won 90 games coming off a 68-win season, we tied for first place in the American League West and lost a tiebreaker.
“That's a huge accomplishment for our organization, but by no means are we satisfied. This is where we want to be year in and year out and we're playing a team that really models that and has been able to do that. We're going to have our work cut out for us, but in terms of who we are, I think resilience is the word that sticks out the most.”