(just pretend I made a clever pun on "Wells")

It’s hard to get too worked up over one loss in July, especially when it signals the end of a 12-game winning streak. Sooner or later, someone in the rotation was bound to have an off night. The past 3 weeks of Ranger baseball shifted so much focus onto the talent of this rotation that it may have caused many to forgetĀ  just how young it actually is. Maybe there is no reason for angst over 1 game in July that marked the end of a historic run of pitching, defense, and winning; after all, this team has shown incredible resiliency under Ron Washington, whether it be in the face of on-field adversity or real life tragedy.

On the other hand, last night certainly felt like more than just .62% of the 2011 season. The fact that it came against the only other credible threat in the division hurts. With more than half of the game complete, the Rangers had a five run lead, and the Angels were reeling. The top of the 5th could have easily been a catastrophic moment for the Angels season, culminating in Wells’ humiliating misplay in left field where he simply lost the ball in the lights, turning an out into a 2 run double for Torrealba. Finish that game off, and the Angels are 6 games back and on the verge of getting swept at home. Maybe doubt starts to creep in. Maybe the Angels front office is pushed one step closer to making another desperate move in the trade market and over-paying for a rental player. At worst, it would have guaranteed that the Rangers leave Los Angeles/Anaheim with a larger lead than they had when they arrived. Instead, the Angels will throw Jared Weaver in the rubber match of a home series with a chance to pull within 3 games of the division lead.

For those who would argue that July is too early in the baseball season to worry about one game, remember this: a game is a game, regardless of when it happens (Yogi Berra wishes he would’ve thought of that). It doesn’t matter when it was played. Adding one game to a division lead is critical, especially early on, and precisely because no one knows what will happen during the season. God forbid one of the starting pitchers gets injured, or Hamilton goes down again, or Kinsler gets mired in another slump, or Cruz pulls another hamstring, or Ogando wears down at the end of the season–but any of those things can happen, and odds are at least one of them will. When a team has a five run lead past the 5th inning, it simply must take advantage. Win the games now, and when Hamilton misses two weeks, it doesn’t mean the difference between playing in post-season and watching it. When the Rangers game against Oakland was called because of weather despite being two outs away from an official game and having built a 7-0 lead, it hurt. Sure, it was only May, but when the team does that much work to build a lead, it stings to lose that opportunity. Whether the game is played in April or September, it all counts the same. If you wait until September to play meaningful ball, there is usually no meaningful ball left to play.

For Whom the Bell Tolls?

But beyond that, a game like last night hurts the Rangers because it once again exposed the soft underbelly of the bullpen to the rest of the league. It is no secret that the Rangers are in the market for an impact bullpen guy, and teams like San Diego, Oakland, Washington, etc. are looking to deal. In one sense, Texas is dealing from a position of strength because their farm system is so incredibly stocked with talent that they could put together a package that no other contenders could match, if they chose to do so. More importantly, the 12 game (pitching-led) winning steak made the Rangers appear more as a team that could afford to pass on any deal if they felt it was mortgaging too much of the future. Last night’s bullpen failure reminded the league that Texas needs bullpen help, which can only serve to drive up the price of a Heath Bell, Mike Adams, or a Tyler Clippard. The fact that it happened in such a high profile divisional game and in such dramatic fashion can only hurt the Rangers’ chances of acquiring an impact pitcher without giving up too much.

The bottom is, last night stung. It makes it more likely that Texas will have to win one, two, or even three of those games in LA at season’s end, instead of using those games to rest Andrus, Hamilton, and Cruz while setting up the playoff rotation. It reinforced the idea around the league that the Rangers need bullpen help, instead of being a team that is open to a deal for the right price. The mentality of the Rangers is not in question. They will bounce back immediately from such a disappointing loss. Would the Angels have been able to do the same? I guess we’ll never know.