Mitch Moreland played nine innings on Tuesday, and he seemed fine. He played nine innings on Wednesday, and he seemed fine. The same thing happened on Thursday, Friday and even Saturday: nine innings, no obvious issues.
On Sunday, the Rangers announced their first baseman was, suddenly, not fine. He will soon undergo reconstructive surgery on his left ankle, as the pain in the joint he had been enduring became unbearable. He is likely to miss three months. As it is already June, that means he is only the latest Ranger who is likely to have already played his last game of 2014.
Queen Elizabeth II famously referred to 1992, in which the marriages of two of her children dissolved, Princess Diana’s tell-all book came out and Windsor Castle caught on fire, as an annus horribilis. That translates to “horrible year” in Latin, and probably something more profane in Texan. As the Rangers, a club that was once considered among the favorites in the American League, hobble through a year that seems to become more remarkably calamitous by the day, they have come to know how the Queen once felt.
According to Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News, Moreland represents the Rangers’ 19th disabled list move of the season, which is seven more than any other team has made. Whereas newspapers in other cities produce photo slideshows celebrating their local team’s highlights, Fraley’s has published one anthologizing the Rangers’ injuries.
The Rangers’ DL currently hosts 13 players, counting Moreland, most of whom are likely to stay there long term. They include three-fifths of their projected rotation: Matt Harrison (spinal fusion surgery), Derek Holland (knee surgery) and Martin Perez (Tommy John surgery).
They include a top prospect whose career has yet to really get going, Jurickson Profar (torn shoulder muscle), and a player whose status as a top prospect had long ago elapsed before he seemed to finally find himself, Kevin Kouzmanoff (herniated disc).
They include both the player whom Moreland replaced as the everyday first baseman, Prince Fielder (neck surgery) – the new Ranger had played in 547 consecutive games through mid-May for baseball’s longest active streak – and the player who was supposed to replace Moreland, Jim Adducci (fractured finger – an injury he appeared to aggravate in a rehab game on Saturday).
“I haven’t been a part of anything like this,” Rangers G.M. Jon Daniels said of the team's injury woes. “We've had a couple of injuries to different units at one point or another where we've had to scramble in the bullpen or scramble in the rotation, but never across the board to this degree and, certainly, some of the severity of these injuries and key guys.”
Daniels delivered that quote not on Sunday, but in a conference call he held some two and a half weeks ago, on May 22. Things have only gotten worse since them.
Statistically savvy front offices, of which Daniels’ is one, like to make several different projections for upcoming seasons, based on varying levels of fortune as far as injuries and production. That allows them to build rosters not designed to succeed only in a best-case scenario, but also when things go wrong – and that is one reason why the Rangers entered the year with depth that rivaled the league’s best clubs. However, as Daniels suggested, it’s impossible to prepare for luck as bad as the Rangers’ turned out to be, or to be deep enough to withstand it. It is so unlikely that you can barely even project it.
While it is tempting to try to find a scapegoat for what has befallen the Rangers – the training staff, for instance – such a rash of injuries can really only be chalked up to fate. As any poker player knows, sometimes you keep playing your hands the right way, and sometimes you keep getting bad beats, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, the timing of Moreland’s disabling represented bad luck on top of bad luck, as it came on the day the Twins signed a long-available free agent who would have represented an obvious potential replacement in Kendrys Morales.
Still, the Rangers might have been fortunate so far in one way: their record. After Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Indians, they were 31-32, even though they have allowed 31 more runs then they have scored, a differential worse than that of just six other teams. According to Baseball Reference’s Pythagorean winning percentage tool, Texas should be 28-35 based on its run differential. However, in a division that includes two of baseball’s best clubs, the A’s and the Angels, as well as the fast-improving Astros, it is difficult to envision the Rangers hovering near .500 for much longer, as their unimaginable bad luck continues to take its toll.
The Rangers are a team both well-designed and built to win now, and they still have a number of elite players who are, for the moment, healthy: Yu Darvish, Alex Rios, Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and even Joakim Soria, the closer who has returned to dominance after several injury-ravaged seasons. Daniels will continue to do all he can to try to turn things around, though you can forgive him if he feels as if he is running in quicksand. Rougned Odor, the promising rookie, left Sunday’s game with a sprained shoulder, and was to be examined on Monday. Part of Daniels, and part of a lot of fans in the Dallas area, likely can’t wait for this season – the Rangers’ annus horribilis – to be over already.