SEATTLE — In a year or two — or whenever they contend again — the Rangers who remain through the rebuild will remember this three-week stretch as integral to their growth. They might even point back to this stretch as a key developmental moment when they learned how to win by losing. Forged in the fire. All that kind of stuff.
Right now, though, it threatens to overwhelm them. Right now, it’s impossible to see the other side. Right now, they fall down early and experience anxiety. And right now, it only leads spiraling further downward.
On Sunday, with a 4-2 loss to Seattle, they extended their losing streak to six games overall. But they’ve lost 12 straight on the road, which ties the club record set in 2003. After what could be a very long off day of brooding in Denver, they will attempt to avoid a 13th straight road loss at Colorado. The Rangers have also lost 12 in a row at Seattle, making it their longest-ever losing streak in one visiting park. They will be back July 4th weekend. So, that should be fun.
Yet, that is exactly how Woodward saw them react Sunday. He used the “F” word: “Frustration.” He said he saw a lot of it Sunday.
With a reshuffled top of the lineup that included sliding struggling Nate Lowe down to sixth, the Rangers were retired in order on 10 pitches by Yusei Kikuchi, though two balls were hit hard. That was all too familiar a beginning. They did not put a runner on base in the first inning during the four-game sweep. They haven’t scored in the first inning in two weeks.
In the bottom of the inning, Seattle scored a run after three consecutive hitters reached with two outs. Kyle Seager’s nine-pitch walk was particularly soul-sucking. Ty France followed with a double. By the time the Rangers got back to the dugout, Woodward saw troubling signs. The Rangers, already no-hit twice this season, didn’t get a base hit until Willie Calhoun led off the sixth with a single.
“Right now, we fall behind by one run in the first and it feels like seven,” Woodward said. “Guys are looking like, ‘What are we going to do?’ You can almost feel their burden.”
Who can blame them? That’s what repeated exposure to trauma will do. They entered having not held the lead at the end of 72 consecutive road innings. It is now 81 and counting.
“It’s tough; it’s not fun,” said second baseman Nick Solak. “We are a hit away here or there. We’ve been really, really close. It hurts. It sucks. But we will keep fighting.”
Solak is emblematic of what has led to the Rangers’ spiral. Opponents took note of the Rangers’ approach in April and made adjustments to their approach in May. In general, the Rangers have seen a significant increase in breaking and offspeed pitches and fewer fastballs. They saw the lowest fastball percentage (52.2) in the majors in May.
But it’s not as easy as such a broad stroke. Solak has struggled with the fastball, so he’s seeing a more equal mix. Solak struck out twice Sunday, including the final out of the eighth inning on fastball over the heart of the plate.
In particular, Nate Lowe struggles against high velocity. He has one hit in 24 at-bats this season against fastballs at least 95 mph or higher. It came in his first at-bat of the year. Kikuchi struck him out looking on a 98 mph fastball in the fifth. Joey Gallo and Willie Calhoun have seen more offspeed and breaking pitches because they have struggled against them. Outside of Adolis García, everybody in the lineup has struggled to keep up with the adjustments.
“We’re trying to make them; I’m trying to make them,” Solak said before stopping and starting several times while searching for words. “Sometimes it doesn’t show up. But we’re making them and eventually they will. If we keep working, it’s going to get better.”
Painful as it may be, there is no better way to solve it than to experience it first. The Rangers are getting plenty of experience right now.
“Veteran teams, maybe it doesn’t snowball,” Woodward said. “With youth, you have to keep pushing them some. You can’t make them not feel some things.”
The Rangers are feeling them right now. Boy, are they ever.