On Ron Washington, Leadership, And A Big Mariners Win


During the months leading up to the start of regular season baseball, a different kind of season starts. That would be projection season, where various statistical models are used to gander at who’s odds are best going into the next year of baseball. While these systems can generally provide a pretty good idea of who’s who – the Astros are bad, the Tigers are good, etc. – they come with huge error bars. A team projected to win eighty games has a chance at sixty wins, just as they have a chance at one hundred wins. Not a big chance, but a chance.

The Texas Rangers were a hot pick to win the AL West, and rightfully so. They had two ace-caliber pitchers atop a deep staff. The bullpen was full of fireballers, and Adrian Beltre led a talented unit on both offense and defense. They were generally projected for a win total in the mid-to-high eighties. Instead, they’ve underperformed even their low-end projections, pushing the limits of how many injuries can be sustained by one single team in one single season.

Here are the Rangers, wallowing at the bottom of the league while still losing a star player every couple of days. They’ve been through it all, been to hell and back, and just want to survive this last stretch of miserable baseball and perhaps even avoid losing one hundred games. But even now, in September, when all wrath was thought to have been inflicted, the team was hit by the news that long time manager Ron Washington was stepping away from the game.

Seattle Mariners fans have been talking a lot about leadership this season. It’s hardly a surprise, given how the team imported a new manager and $240 million veteran superstar second baseman. With the team enjoying a successful season, people want to see reasons beyond just the better play on the field. What drives that success, and why is it working now? Invariably, leadership comes up, since the Mariners seem to have a lot of good leadership this season.

Think of the 2010 Mariners team and how ruthlessly they imploded. Think of recently-fired Houston Astros manager Bo Porter and his alleged riffs with upper management. Think about the Jeffrey Loria/Larry Beinfest fallout a year ago. Then look over at the Rangers, who’ve had this terrible, ridiculous season, and notice what they’re talking about. No clubhouse unrest. No communication breakdowns. Just Jon Daniels and Washington reitterating that this team can and will contend next year.

Of course, a team can still be an internal mess without projecting that outwardly. But if we are to put any stock at all into what people say, then we should probably believe that Ron Washington’s steady leadership style is a big part of what’s been helping the Texas Rangers remain a happy organization even as their team crumbles on the field.

We still don’t know how this Mariners season is going to play out, but odds are the team will finish with a mid-to-high-eighties win total and a possible playoff berth. Expectations will be higher than usual for 2015, but those error bars still exist. Next year the M’s will be expected to contend again, but we’ve seen what can happen to teams that are supposed to contend. There’s no saying that this year’s success will be next year’s success. The real question is how the organization will respond if a winning 2015 turns out to be elusive.

Ron Washington’s 2014 Texas Rangers were the best-case scenario for a disaster season. They were planning on keeping the staff together and re-tooling for a big Red Sox-style turnaround. Their headlines have been about rest and rehab, not clubhouse scuffles and the GM using video game stats to fuel his player acquisition strategies. There’s been no personnel clashes in the Luhnow/Porter vein. The Rangers could win thirty less games than they did a year ago, but it’s not going to destroy them long-term.

Washington was the rare baseball manager who was engaging and entertaining as an in-game presence. It wasn’t just his players who were reeling from the news yesterday morning – it was all of baseball, the entirety of this fraternal order of grown men who have devoted their lives to a game they came to love as kids. Wash is a well-liked guy, outside of a particular bunt-hating subset of Rangers faithful. Even the Mariners were feeling bummer heading into this one.

Maybe it was the weary Texas hearts, or maybe it was the terrible Texas team, but a sad morning quickly turned into a monumental afternoon as the Mariners cruised to a 7-5 victory while the Detroit Tigers were dismantled by the San Francisco Giants, once again shifting the balance of power in the wild card race. The Mariners took on a team that had just lost it’s leader and won handily. The reward was tremendous.

Sep 5, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; The Seattle Mariners celebrate the win over the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Mariners defeated the Rangers 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners had seven hits and three walks on the day, converting almost all of their baserunners into runs. That suggests a lot of home runs, and sure enough, this game was won on the back of the team’s power bats. Kendrys Morales had two-run homers in both the second and sixth innings. Mike Zunino and Brad Miller both hit bombs in the fifth. Miller’s came with one man one, while Zunino’s was a solo shot that set a new franchise record for most dingers in a season by a catcher. Living off the long ball paid dividends for the M’s.

Hisashi Iwakuma allowed three runs in 5.1 innings while keeping his ERA under three. Brandon Maurer allowed a two-run Adam Rosales homer in the sixth and Fernando Rodney made sure to sneak in one of his one-run saves, but otherwise the bullpen was sterling in shutting down the Rangers. Sad bats are still bats, but Texas isn’t swinging strong sticks even on days when the manager doesn’t quit. Regardless of the competition, this was a critical win, one that pushed the M’s back into the playoff spot they so covet.

At 5:05 today it’ll be Chris Young and Nick Martinez. Taking the first three games of this series would be tremendous, and one notices that the Tigers already played and lost today. The A’s lost to the Astros last night, and as their freefall continues the first wild card only becomes more attainable. The Mariners play a huge game today, just as they will tomorrow. This is so fun.