Greatest Teams Never to Win a World Series in the Last 30 Years-11 Rangers
It is relatively rare to see a team on the verge of winning the whole thing implode on itself. We saw it with the 1986 Boston Red Sox.
And then 25 years later, the Rangers did it.
Texas is currently one of the "Unlucky Seven" to have never win a World Series. And out of the seven, they have been the obvious closest. And the 2011 season perhaps was their best in franchise history.
After years of being a middle-of-the-pack squad, especially after trading away Alex Rodriguez before the 2004 season, the Rangers thanks to a good farm system and key moves started flexing their muscles in 2010, winning the AL West for the first time since 1999 and then taking down the mighty Yankees in the ALCS in 2010 only to get sent packing by the San Francisco Giants. The question begged was the 2010 season a fluke?
The Rangers in 2010 had an incredibly potent lineup with Josh Hamilton who won the MVP in 2010 after many started to write him off after some issues with relapsing and injuries. However, the Rangers had a deadly middle of the order with Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero. Combined, they hit 83 HR and made life miserable. Adding on to that crew was a good all-around second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Michael Young. And David Murphy was a solid contributor as well. Add in a defensively solid shortstop in Elvis Andrus, and you had a great lineup. Texas solidified their rotation by trading for Cliff Lee at the deadline.
So there were questions if the Rangers could match that in 2011. Lee was gone. Guerrero was gone. But the Rangers added a couple of key pieces in the off-season: signing third baseman Adrian Beltre (and moving Young to DH) and Catcher/DH Mike Napoli. And what you got was one of the top lineups in all of baseball in 2011.
While Texas never led wire-to-wire, it was pretty much close. The first two months was a seesaw race with Seattle as the Rangers never got it cooking. In fact, despite leading for most of the first part of the season, the Rangers were only 36-34 and losing 6 of 7. However before and during the All-Star Break, the Rangers figured things out in a big way, slugging teams with their hitting and frustrating opposing hitters en route to a 12-game winning streak. Despite the big run, the Rangers couldn't shake off the Angels until September. And then the Rangers really pulled away by mid-September, going 14-2 to end the stretch and avoid seeing the Yankees in the first round, but getting Tampa Bay.
WHY WERE THEY SO GOOD? Well, they played possessed really in the 2nd half of the season. From July 4th, Texas went 52-25, scorching teams along the way. 3 players had 30 or more home runs (Kinsler, Beltre, Napoli) and 2 more had 20 or more (Cruz with 29 and Hamilton with 25) so they could hit. And then, you had speed with Kinsler and Andrus (67 SB among the two) while the Rangers ranked in the top 3 in every category on the offensive side. They were a force to be reckoned with.
The pitching for Texas in 2011 was pretty underrated. CJ Wilson had a Cy Young caliber year (16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) while Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando had ERA's in the 3's while eating up innings (Holland had 4 complete game shutouts in 2011). But their bullpen was pretty dangerous with a veteran bunch of Darren Oliver, who pitched great as well as Mark Lowe who was solid for Texas. And two key moves for the Rangers happened at the deadline getting Mike Adams from San Diego and Koji Uehara from Baltimore, which helped solidify the pen for closer Neftali Feliz who had a 2.74 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP to go with 32 saves. Texas had everything in place for a great October run.
And early on it was going that way.
After Game 1 of the ALDS where the Rays smacked Texas 9-0, the Rangers came back to beat Tampa Bay 8-6 and then back-to-back 4-3 wins at Tropicana Field, including some great performances by Adrian Beltre (who hit 3 HR in the series clincher).
The Rangers went up against a Detroit Tigers team that entered the postseason just as hot as Texas and many penned Detroit thanks to Justin Verlander (who would win the Cy Young AND the MVP in 2011), Miguel Cabrera (who was always an MVP threat himself), and Jose Valverde who had been lights out in closing games.
However, Texas stepped up in a big way as another Ranger came to the front in Nelson Cruz, clubbing 3 HR in the first two games of the ALCS, including a walk-off grand slam to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead going to Detroit.
After a Game 3 win by the Tigers where Texas struggled to generate offense, Cruz garnered the key blast in extra innings off of Valverde, a 3-run blast to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead in the series. Cruz added another blast in Game 5, but Detroit held the rest of the Rangers in check despite a late rally. And in Game 6, Texas opened the floodgates on Max Scherzer (before he became Max Scherzer) and Cruz again homered en route to a 15-5 spanking of the Tigers.
Texas went against a Cardinals team in the World Series that many penned the Rangers as favorites because of the all-around team. However, the Cardinals in the first two games kept the Rangers bats at bay, but another player was starting step up for Texas in Mike Napoli. Napoli hit .350 in the series with an OPS over 1.000 and he always seemed to deliver the clutch hit on the Cardinals. After St. Louis destroyed Texas in Game 3 thanks to 3 Albert Pujols home runs, the Rangers pitching stalled the Cardinals offense in Games 4 and 5 in Texas, allowing a total of 2 runs on just 9 hits while Napoli homered in Game 4 and hit the game winning double in Game 5. And the bullpen was rolling after their mess in Game 3. So it was one win away in St. Louis.
And Game 6 happened. Texas's offense got rolling with the usual suspects of Beltre and Cruz homering. And Napoli was up to his old ways as many were penning him as the World Series MVP. With Texas up 7-5 heading into the 9th, many figured with Feliz coming in, it would be game, set match Rangers even with the heart of the order for St. Louis up. After a strikeout, Pujols doubled and Berkman walked, but Feliz struck out Allen Craig and then David Freeze hits a fly ball that seemingly would have ended the game. However, Nelson Cruz, more known for his bat and not his glove, misjudged the fly ball and tied the game for the Cardinals in the bottom half of the 9th. After a 2-run blast by Josh Hamilton in the 10th, the Rangers had another chance again to win the game.
After a run scored on a ground-out, the Rangers had another chance to win the Series but Lance Berkman drove in the game-tying run to keep the Cardinals alive. And then in the 11th, Freese sent the Cardinals fans home happy while the Ranger fans had their hearts ripped out.
In Game 7 after a quick start by Texas with back-to-back RBI doubles by Hamilton and Young to take a 2-0 lead, the Cardinals stormed back with David Freese again getting the key hit, a 2-run double in the first. The Cardinals then started to wear out the Rangers pitching as probably all cylinders of Texas, physically and emotionally wore out. The end result was a 6-2 Cardinals win as Texas fell from grace.
WHAT WENT WRONG? The million dollar question and many wonder to this day is "why was Nelson Cruz still out there in the 9th with a 2-run lead?" The Rangers used Endy Chavez as a pinch-hitter in the 9th and he was great with the glove (not to mention having one of the greatest catches in post-season history in 2006 against the same Cardinals when he was a Met). Of course, hindsight is maybe Ron Washington thought if the game went to extras, he would lose one of his strongest hitters. But still.....this has to linger in Rangers fans minds even today.
AFTERMATH: Could there have been a dynasty in Texas had the Rangers won Game 6? Perhaps. The Rangers were the American League's elite at this time. But they let CJ Wilson walk after the 2011 season in favor of Japanese import Yu Darvish. Darvish gained a lot of attention and for good reason. However, his ERA was nearly a run higher than Wilson's ERA in 2011. Harrison stepped up in 2012 and became a strong pitcher for the Rangers, but Derek Holland fell back. There were some unhappy campers in the locker room notably with Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler. Despite all of that, the Rangers led wire-to-wire (almost) and had one of baseball's best records before losing to the young and upstart Oakland Athletics on the final game of the season for the division. At that point the Rangers, many believed, had quit.
After the season, the Rangers let Hamilton and Young both go as a change started happening in Arlington. Texas still competed, but had another September swoon, giving the Athletics a 2nd straight division title. The Rangers would later on trade Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder, which stung as Fielder battled injuries in 2014 and 2 years later had to retire from them and let Cruz walk. Texas did however have a good farm system during this game having the likes of Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, and Robinson Chirinos while making some shrewd veteran additions such as Cole Hamels and Sin-Soo Choo (and they brought Hamilton back). Texas in 2015 and 2016 got back to the playoffs but were bounced early both times by Toronto.
But one does have to wonder what would have happened had the Rangers closed out Game 6 and what direction that would have taken them, and the rest of the MLB.
OTHER GREAT TEAMS NEVER TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES IN THE LAST 30 YEARS
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat