A Road Less Traveled: How Strict Road Protocols May Have Impacted the Texas Rangers in 2020
ARLINGTON, Texas — The potential of getting a top-three pick in next year's MLB Draft could be exciting for a Texas Rangers organization that needs more impact talent. Nothing is final just yet, but if Major League Baseball inevitably confirms Jeff Passan's report that next year's draft order is "highly likely" to be determined by record, the Rangers are currently in line to have the second overall pick.
However, that also means things went very wrong this season.
On the surface, a 20-38 record though 58 games in a 60-game season should tell you everything you need to know about how poorly things went in Arlington this summer. A 3-17 stretch after a 10-10 start tells you a little more, while a team OPS of .638 heading into Friday night's win over Houston can tell you how abysmal the Rangers were at the plate.
What may really be the catalyst for the Rangers woes this season is their lack of success on the road. Texas finished this season with a 6-24 record away from Globe Life Field, which has the potential to be the worst in all of baseball (depending on how Pittsburgh finishes their season in Cleveland).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire landscape of the baseball season was altered. Numerous health and safety protocols that were necessary for the survival of the season had significant impacts on the mental state of players on the road. Isiah Kiner-Falefa detailed those challenges earlier this month in a radio interview with 105.3 The Fan.
"MLB actually has someone just walking around the hotel to make sure we don't do anything," Kiner-Falefa explained. "Just based off previous teams and what they've done and how it affected the season. So, MLB has been very strict. It's almost cooler to be at home because you can at least do a little more and have some people around. But when you're on the road it's almost like prison. You can't leave your room. Even if you go down to the lobby (you'll get in trouble) ... (I'm) just curious how far this can go on."
As Rangers manager Chris Woodward reflects on what has been a very difficult season, he's witnessed the challenges for his players while on the road. And as the leader of the clubhouse that has his finger on the pulse of his team, he remains consistent that the safety restrictions have been challenging, but are not exclusive to the Rangers.
“The one thing I don't want to do is make excuses," Woodward detailed. "As the leader of the team, I don't want to do that. I think everybody put their best foot forward on the road. I think this year, it made me feel a little bit better when I saw some of the other teams in the league were having issues on the road as well."
Woodward spent 12 years as a big league player, playing as recently as 2011. Not even being 10 years removed from his playing career, he identifies with what his players were facing on the road this season.
"Being a former player, that was the time when I spent with my teammates probably the most," Woodward explained. "On road trips, you go to dinner, you go hang out; there's a lot of bonding time on the road. At home, everybody has their homes with their families. Everybody's kind of away from each other. But on the road, it was like everybody's together."
However, Woodward as detailed life on the road this season, it echoed the words of Kiner-Falefa. The strict road protocols may not be a worthy alibi for the 6-24 road record in Woodward's eyes, but it's clear they had an impact on his team.
"In talking to a lot of our guys, they felt the same way," Woodward said. "After a tough game, or tough loss, all they can do is just go back and stare at the walls of the room and watch Netflix and have to wait till 1:00 in the afternoon to go to the field. I don't think it was mentally healthy for our guys.
"But like I said, there's no excuse. I don't think that was the reason why. We just didn't play well. We didn't pitch well. We didn't hit well. We didn't play good defense on the road. So that led to our bad record. But I do think that the protocols definitely factored in. It was like a dull, kind of gray all the time. There was no livelihood, there was no interaction with their teammates as much as they should normally.”
Not unlike next year's draft order, there's still not a guarantee that everything will be back to normal next season. For a Texas Rangers team that will be younger in 2021, they would benefit from road trips being back to business as usual.