It’s not just recency bias; the way something ends has a disproportionate impact on our evaluation of it. Maybe it’s because we’re raised on coherent narratives and the idea of building to a conclusion. What happens first is just setting the stage for later.
Not so for baseball teams working their way through a 162-game schedule. Oh, certainly the season has a narrative — but it doesn’t have to make sense. The order in which events unfold is not meaningfully reflective of any essential truth. Barring seismic injury, a lineup that rakes in the season’s first half retains the capacity to score a bunch of runs over a handful of games when it matters most.
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Through the first two games of the 2023 Major League Baseball season, the Texas Rangers scored 27 runs — the most in the league, if you can believe it.
Through May, the Rangers had scored the most runs of any team. Through June, they had scored the most runs of any team. Through July, they had scored the most runs of any team. They started August with an eight-game winning streak. But then, from late August into September, they lost 16 of 19, falling from first in the division down to third. In August, they were 12th in runs scored. In September, they were 11th.
They entered a four-game series against Seattle on the last weekend of the season needing to win just two games to secure the American League’s coveted 2-seed. They won one; elsewhere, the Houston Astros swept the Diamondbacks, and the Rangers fell to the 5-seed after getting shut out in Game 162.
A little more than a week later, commentators worried what it means for the sport that lowly Rangers — a wild-card team! — served the best-in-the-AL Baltimore Orioles their first sweep since mid-May of last season to advance to the American League Championship Series. In front of the first home crowd they’ve seen in weeks, the Rangers won 7-1. It’s their fifth straight victory this October. They’re eight away from the franchise’s first championship.
General manager Chris Young planned to shortcut his way to a competitor by importing top-of-the-line pitching — in the offseason and again at the deadline. That was going to be the difference between the 2022 team that lost 94 games with the ninth-worst ERA in baseball and the one that hoped to contend this year. It’s how he convinced future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy that this club could win.
And on Tuesday, one of those offseason additions, Nathan Eovaldi, demonstrated the value in subscribing to a never-enough-pitching approach to the market. Against the Orioles, who acted conservatively in supplementing their staff, Eovaldi gave up just one run across seven innings, receiving a midgame curtain call from the Arlington fans who came to see their team play its first playoff game at the new ballpark.
But it’s the lineup that has propelled the Rangers into the ALCS for the third time in franchise history. The lineup that obliterated the Tampa Bay Rays and Orioles, building up enough of a cushion that even a shaky bullpen could breathe easy. The lineup that outscored the Orioles by 74 runs in the regular season. The lineup that is averaging 6.4 runs per game this postseason — compared to 3.33 runs per game for the other 11 playoff teams and 4.22 runs per game for the six other playoff teams that remain.
On Tuesday, the unassuming Corey Seager followed an unassumingly productive performance in Baltimore — in which he set a postseason record with five walks in one game — by hitting a 445-foot home run on the third pitch he saw. It was one of three balls hit at least 418 feet by the Rangers on the night. Only one player in the lineup didn’t have a hit.
Through five games this postseason, the Rangers have trailed for only half an inning — in the second game of the Division Series, they fell behind 2-0 in the bottom of the first before scoring five in the top of the second. They’re red-hot, but they’re also just a really good team. They’re sporting a $214 million payroll and the second-largest regular-season run differential in the American League. They had six players appear in the All-Star Game this season (all of whom are still healthy), and for a large part of the early season, they looked unstoppable.
Two rounds into the postseason, they look unstoppable again. And just nine days after they couldn’t scratch across a run or two to save their season, it’s coming at an even more advantageous time.
Christine Lake is a sports fanatic who lives and breathes athletics. With an extensive background in sports journalism, he covers everything from major league championships to grassroots sports events. When she’s not on the field or at the stadium, you’ll find Christine coaching youth sports teams.