BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – The big story of this weekend’s three game series between the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Mariners happened before a pitch was thrown. Friday morning, beat writers covering the team citing reliable sources reported that the Rangers would not retain manager Jeff Banister for the 2019 season. By Friday afternoon, the club made it official. Banister was relieved of his managerial duties effective immediately, and Bench Coach Don Wakamatsu took over as interim manager for the final 10 games of the season.
A surprise? When a team plays as poorly as the Rangers’ record this season, bold changes usually get made. It is often the manager that gets the axe. Did Banister deserve to be let go? Probably not on his record as manager. He took the team to division championships in his first two seasons (2015 and 2016). Johnny Oates is the only manager that won more – three. Injuries derailed the 2017 team, and when the 2018 season began, the team was already in the re-building mode trying to open another window of opportunity to make the team worthy of a playoff run for multiple years.
Even GM Jon Daniels admitted that the team’s poor record in 2018 was much more his fault than Banister’s. He simply put together a team with the talent destined to finish last in the division.
On the other hand, the real question at this point does not involve placing blame on where the team is now. The real question is that now that the team has finally fessed up that they are in a rebuilding stage and likely will not be a serious playoff contender until at least 2020 and probably later, who is the best man to manage the team in 2019 and 2020 if not beyond to develop the talent to be a contender? The answer was not Banister.
Banister followed Ron Washington, who was known as a players’ manager. Washington was extremely successful with the veteran teams the Rangers fielded in 2010-2013. As the veterans moved on, there were times people wondered if the inmates were running the asylum under Washington’s laissez faire management style. The manager following Washington needed to be more structured. Banister proved to be the right person, as he rallied the talent for the two division titles.
From the beginning though, Banister’s tough guy, grind it out approach rubbed some players the wrong way. There was definitely a faction that didn’t like Banister even during the winning years. Winning usually quells complaints, but when the team stopped winning divisions in 2017 and 2018, the discontent became an uproar. It’s difficult to make the tough guy approach last over a long period of time.
Daniels promised a thorough search for a new manager when the season ends, just as he did after the 2014 season. Wakamatsu has indicated he would like to be considered, and all indications are that he will. A lot of Banister’s problems with the team were in his communication skills, and Wakamatsu was brought in to assist in that area. He has managed in the Majors with Seattle, and he has a heavy load of coaching experience in the Majors, including coaching with the Rangers on the staffs of Buck Showalter, Ron Washington and Banister. Being with the team this year, he has an excellent knowledge of the current personnel. Wakamatsu should be a strong candidate for the opening.
In reality, Daniels has given little indication of the strong points he’ll be seeking in his new manager. There has been a trend in recent years for teams to hire managers with little and in some cases no coaching or managerial experience that are younger and theoretically relate better to players. The results have varied. But again, Daniels has given very little insight into the qualities he will be seeking with this managerial hire.
When the Rangers’ owners extended Daniels’ contract early this season, they effectively cast their fate on rebuilding the team with Daniels. Apparently, they are confident that Daniels will again make a good managerial hire.
On Friday night, Wakamatsu recorded his first Ranger win. Texas won 8-3 in the first rain shortened game in the history of Globe Life Ballpark. Adrian Beltre homered and drove in five runs. The home run was his 476th, which gave him sole possession of 30th place on the all-time home run list. Joey Gallo also homered, his 38th.
Ariel Jurado was the primary pitcher following opener Connor Sadzeck. Jurado finished innings two through six, allowing two runs on six hits. He got the win to go to 5-4.
Mike Minor was Saturday’s starting pitcher. He wasn’t sharp scrambling through four scoreless innings, but he couldn’t make it five. Robinson Cano homered with two runners aboard and two outs to give Seattle a 3-0 lead. Minor’s night ended one batter later on a walk. His pitch count was 96.
Three was all the runs Seattle would need, as the Ranger offense didn’t bother to score Saturday night. The first four relievers that followed Minor each gave up runs as the Mariners scored in every remaining inning. 13-0 was the final score, as the Rangers managed just three singles on the night. Minor is 12-8 with the loss.
The highlight of Sunday’s game came in the sixth inning. Wakamatsu removed Adrian Beltre from the game. He trotted from his position at third base greeted by his teammates and to a standing ovation from the adoring crowd. Everyone realized this could well have been Beltre’s final appearance in a Ranger uniform as a player in Arlington.
After the game, Beltre was quoted “This is the first time I’m actually thinking of packing and maybe not coming back. Mentally, I’m ready for whatever decision I’m going to make. It was a weird day today.”
Martin Perez was Sunday’s starting pitcher instead of Adrian Simpson as previously announced. Perez has pitched well in relief such that he earned the chance to start again. He lasted just four innings as he is no longer stretched out to go but about 50 pitches. He used 49 of them well, allowing a run on two hits. He’ll get one more start in Seattle next week.
The Rangers erupted for four runs in the sixth inning to take the lead. Mazara doubled home the first two runs to put Texas ahead. Robinson Chirinos singled him home for the third run. Two more singles loaded the bases, and Carlos Tocci brought Chirinos home with a sacrifice fly.
Gallo completed the scoring on the day with a two run home run in the eighth inning to make the final score 6-1. It was Gallo’s 39th home run, leaving him a week to hit at least one more to reach 40 for the second season in a row.
Four relievers shutout the Mariners after Perez left. Jeffrey Springs (1-1) earned the win.
Texas plays every day next week on the road to finish the season. The trip begins with three games in Anaheim against the Angels, and four in Seattle with the Mariners. The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Adrian Sampson on Monday, Yovani Gallardo on Tuesday and Yohander Mendez on Wednesday.
* Assistant General Manager Jayce Tingler was added to the coaching staff on Saturday taking over the bench coach role formerly held by interim manager Don Wakamatsu.
* The final home attendance this season was 2,107,107 (26,014 per game), a drop of 400,653 (16%) from last season.