The Texas Rangers continue to slide further and further from relevance this MLB season, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the 2021 campaign was never about winning the most ballgames.
The Rangers are young and not good enough in what long ago was labeled as a rebuilding season. The goal is to develop those young players into a core, around which key free agents and trade pieces can be added in the offseason.
Once that happens, in theory, the Rangers can contend for the postseason again.
Until then, one of the most important things manager Chris Woodward can do each day is find something, a silver lining, to keep those young minds from turning to mush.
Finding the silver lining, or multiple silver linings, is part of the job for the manager of a rebuilding MLB team.
“I’m sure he’s having to find more for us right now,” infielder Charlie Culberson said.
Culberson is right. With the Rangers’ record sitting at 25-46 after a 4-2 loss and a three-game sweep to the Minnesota Twins, the good is getting hard to find.
The Rangers have lost six straight games.
Woodward, though, keeps pumping the rainbows and lollipops each day. He sees players developing despite all the losing. His hope is that they don’t get used to losing.
“Nothing has changed as far as how we’re going to go through our days and the energy and the positivity, but it’s tough,” Woodward said. “And I hope it’s really tough on the players, as well, without consuming them. The one thing I don’t want to do is get comfortable losing. That’s the biggest fear I have with a young team, that they,’re, ‘Ah, we just lost. Big deal.’ I want it to hurt.”
One silver lining is that the Rangers, for the most part, have played close games. That also makes the losing difficult, as the players search for ways to win ballgames but too often are finding ways to lose them.
The work continues, though. The players are asking the right questions and are open to coaching and constructive criticism. The effort is there.
That adds to the pain and frustration for Woodward, which showed Tuesday as he unleashed a stream of F-bombs toward plate umpire Jerry Meals following a blown strike call in the 10th inning.
Woodward has been more direct with the media when a player has dropped the ball. He’s not ripping them, but he’s holding them accountable when they do something costly that has been hammered home by the coaching staff.
“I want to get back to executing, quality at-bats, doing the right things, making sure we’re making plays and know what the recipe for winning is so we don’t lose sight of that,” Woodward said Sunday morning.
“It’s easy in a losing environment ... where it just becomes comfortable. I don’t want that. I don’t want that. We have to make sure there’s some significant understanding that we don’t want to lose. We’re not OK with losing. I’m not OK with losing.”
But the losing ways are likely to continue until players develop to the point where they can be productive each day. That takes time, even for the players who aren’t rookies.
First baseman Nate Lowe, second baseman Nick Solak and designated hitter Willie Calhoun have all cooled at the plate as opponents have adjusted how to pitch them. They have to learn from their failures.
“There’s some things that needed to happen that they needed to go through individually,” Woodward said. “They’re not finished products by any means. There are a lot of little things they need to do to be complete hitters, where they can actually be a productive offensive players on a daily basis. And the same thing on the pitching side. We’ve got to execute better.”
But the silver linings are important in keeping players from getting beaten down.
Joey Gallo went 0 for 4 on Wednesday and said afterward that he was feeling down because he felt he had hurt the team. Woodward, though, found Gallo in the food room afterward and redirected his negative thoughts.
“He said, ‘Look, good swings today, man,’” said Gallo, who was on the back half of back-to-back solo homers Sunday with Adolis Garcia. “It made me feel a lot better. My manager, after an 0-for-4 day and we lost, told me, ‘Hey, you had good at-bats. Keep swinging it.’”
And, with baseball, there’s always a game the next day to turn things around, even for a rebuilding team heading toward a last-place finish.
“We have a great opportunity to play against major-league teams and major-league talent,” Woodward said. “That should be positive enough in itself. And we have a good culture. These guys care about each other. They love coming to the field. Let’s embrace that and feed off of that every day.”