On Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010, I boarded a bus in Round Rock, Texas, 19 miles north of Austin. The bus was chartered by the Round Rock Express, the new Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Our destination was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, for Game 2 of the ALCS vs. the New York Yankees. It was my fourth season as a Rangers fan. Some may say I didn’t pay my dues to ride that bus. Those folks can kick rocks. I picked right.
In mid-2006, I picked up and moved to Austin, just as I was “getting back into baseball.” I auditioned both local teams, the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers (Texas is a big state, y’all). The Astros were closer, air-conditioned and had just notched a pennant. But my gut told me to go with the “junior circuit,” even though the Rangers had been awful since winning back-to-back AL West titles in 1998-99, and weren’t considered to be a team that was exactly knocking on the door of the postseason.
Yes, I was lucky to latch on to the franchise’s most successful decade, featuring five postseason appearances in seven years, frontloaded by our first two pennants. Our boy genius, general manager Jon Daniels, the youngest ever at the time of his hiring before the 2006 season, earned himself a Texas mile of rope with all those October series. Sound familiar?
A RIVALRY? NOT EXACTLY
What links the Chicago White Sox to the Rangers and Texas, besides two series per season? The Brothers Danks leap to mind. You dealt us Brandon McCarthy and David Paisano for John Danks, Jake Rasner and Nick Massett; later you drafted his brother Jordan out of the University of Texas. McCarthy gave 1.8 bWAR over three seasons, John Danks gave you 20.4 over 10.
Within a year of that deal, Daniels would pull off The Trade Of His Life, dealing Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for what turned out to be a one-year rental, and hauling in Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
I bring this deal up because Daniels made some good ones, and oversaw a strong sustained stretch of organizational development. Obviously he can’t bat 1.000, and some of the assets spun off while moving forward are what link the Rangers to the White Sox and Chicago. Leury García comes leapin’ to mind, the PTBNL in the Alex Rios deal. The Rangers had too many middle infielders to hold – Elvis Andrus! Rougned Odor! Jurickson Profar! – and utility infielders to spare. García never took a PA as an outfielder for us, but in 2018 is on pace for his best bWAR season, with 0.4 already. Odubel Herrera: tried him in CF in Winter Ball, the Philadelphia Philllies scouted that, you know the rest. Yangervis Solarte: couldn’t play shortstop, ruling him out as a UIF. And your future UIF Yeyson Yrizarri comes via the Rangers, in exchange for International Bonus Slot Money. His 80-grade name alone will make us rue this transaction.
You pay good money not to have to read one word about the North Siders, but I can’t write a baseball story in this town without unsticking this from my craw: Kyle Hendricks to the Chicago Cubs in the Ryan Dempster deal (along with Christian Villanueva, April 2018 NL Rookie of the Month, nyeah). Carl Edwards Jr. to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. Both justifiable-at-the-time “win-now” moves: Dempster helps get us to the 2012 Wild Card game. But man, it’s hard to watch Hendricks and Edwards dealing today.
And the White Sox benefit in a roundabout way from the Rangers “wow, didn’t see that coming” acquisition of Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers in the form of outfielder Ryan Cordell, who was spun to Chicago in the Anthony Swarzak deal.
OUR HISTORY OF MEETUP GAMES
Sister blog LoneStarBall calls them “Tailgates,” you call them “Meetups” – real original. Down in Texas, our #8 on April 19, 2014 was a 6-3 win over the Pale Hose and The Fine Colombian, and arguably our last great tailgate — which included frolics with RBiA announcer Chuck Morgan. Let me toss you a Milk-Bone: As my drive up from Austin was 200 miles, I always tried to stay overnight after a Saturday night ballgame to catch the Sunday afternoon contest before making my way back home. On April 20, you drubbed us, 16-2. Marcus Semien went 4-for-6 with four RBI. When Jordan Danks planked one off the upper deck facing, I knew it was time to leave early, which I had never done before.
Our Tailgates went downhill fast, and we couldn’t even muster enough interest in 2017 or 2018. The takeaway: Cherish the chemistry you’ve built. You’ve made it to #X, and can still drink a beer and eat a brat with fellow White Sox fans you sometimes agree to disagree with. It’s a beautiful thing.
As a Rangers fan transplanted back to Chicago (where I’m originally from), I settle for our one annual South Side series. Fortuitously for me, your Meetup has coincided with the Rangers series for two years now. Last season, I turned up in a Derek Holland jersey (Rangers style) as Andrus, Odor and Mike Napoli homered in support of “staff ace” Cole Hamels. I screamed and shouted and carried on — and I was treated with great hospitality. Who knows what new provocations I have in store for Meetup X? (Or could a blade be in store for me?)
SO, WHO ARE THE 2018 RANGERS?
Y’all are lucky. South Siders, full rebuild mode. North Siders, peak contention mode. You know where you stand, and there’s comfort in that.
Deep in the Heart of Texas, not so much. Preseason PECOTA predicted us at 77 wins (one fewer than last season), tied for the AL West cellar with the Oakland A’s. Our cross-state “rival” Astros are the current poster child for Rebuilding the Right Way, and will be kicking our butt with the iconic Silver Boot for years to come. We received a partial insurance recoup for the tragic Prince Fielder contract; the ill-advised Shin-Soo Choo contract is an albatross that can’t be unloaded. We want third baseman Adrian Beltre’s great career to come to a graceful conclusion in our colors.
Our once-vaunted middle infield has been a source of angst. Shortstop Andrus went from not earning his $15 million to a likely opt-out candidate since he flipped the switch last season. I can only hope your extension of Tim Anderson works out better than ours of second baseman Odor (six years/$49 million), one of baseball’s worst everyday players since he signed. Andrus has been on the DL since April 12 with a broken elbow. Odor was out from April 10 through May 11 with a hamstring strain. Former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball Profar became an everyday player at last due to these injuries, along with two DL stints for Beltre, the second of which began just yesterday — and is your loss too, as you’ll miss one of the most joyful players in the sport. Profar, himself derailed by injury at the peak of his potential, has shown flashes, but is only rocking an 86 wRC+.
With a starting rotation chock full of dice-roll reclamation projects – Doug Fister, Mike Minor, Matt Moore – the realistic fan base was resigned to a grim campaign. But the early injuries only made it worse. Centerfielder Delino Shields went on the DL just three games in with a fractured hamate: despite having played only 22 of our 44 games, he leads the team with 1.1 bWAR. (Trivia: Delino’s sister Diamond was recently selected third overall in the WNBA draft by Chicago’s very own Sky.)
This DL churning has forced us to trot out 4A types, good ol’ org depth soldiers who’ve earned our contempt by falling as short as they were destined to. Utility man Drew Robinson, who we once stuck at shortstop with predictably awful results, is clocking a dismal 34 wRC+ and 50% (!) K rate. Leftfielder Ryan Rua (31 wRC+, 34% K) is slogging through 76 painful PA’s.
HARDLY SEEMED POSSIBLE, BUT YOU’RE DEPRESSING EVEN US. WHAT IF ANY ARE THE BRIGHT SPOTS?
The good times are frankly few and far between. The tedium is punctuated by first baseman / leftfielder Joey Gallo’s continuing abuse of a popcorn cart tucked away deep in the right field concourse. We ooh and ahh at his exit velocity and launch angle. He’s on pace for 48 HR’s! His K rate is down to 33%! Yesterday he informed us he “hates” playing third base. That’s like telling Mom you never liked her spaghetti!
We similarly swoon over right fielder Nomar Mazara’s feats of strength. His .239 ISO trails only Gallo’s .272 on the team. Do you remember your April 24, 2016 home victory over the Rangers? Batting second, Nomah launched one of his E-Z power home runs to right field off “Good” Mat Latos before most of us were in our seats. It was two days before his 21st birthday. Despite all the prospects misspent, we still retained and groomed some next-generation talent.
The injury-caused lineup gaps also slightly accelerated the promotions of first baseman Ronald Guzman and infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Like Gallo, Guzman is listed at six-foot-four but seems longer, in the “Dirk (Nowitzki) gets that” sense. IK-F, son of Ralph if you like, has shown flashes at the plate and with the glove: It’s a bummer when we get around to his 81 wRC+.
THE BRIGHT SPOT YOU WON’T GET TO SEE
It’s obviously Bartolo Colon, who famously dealt a six-inning perfecto on Sunday Night Baseball at the Astros on April 15. And he just twirled a beaut yesterday in Seattle: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 3 K, 0 BB, 71 strikes in 96 pitches, first-pitch strikes to 22 of 27 batters. The gamble worked: As bullpens strain under short starts, Mr. Reliable Seven may fetch something.
AND WHAT HAPPENED ON THE BUS?
We watched “The Sandlot” on the bus’s video screens on the way up; “The Rookie” on the way back. I had seen neither. We beat the New York Yankees 7-2, and went on to win the ALCS!
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Prediction: the White Sox win another AL Pennant before the Rangers … and I’ll be glad I’m here for it!