The 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was hosted by the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium, but the spotlight Texas Rangers stole the show coming into it.
After an up-and-down first-half of the season, Texas hit its stride in the first few weeks of July, buoyed by the acquisition of Roy Oswalt and Josh Hamilton’s MVP-caliber offensive production. Going into the festivities in the City of Fountains, the Rangers boasted a 52-34 record and a comfortable four-game lead in the AL West.
Including manager Ron Washington, who was set to man the bench as is tradition for every manager defending a league pennant, Texas sent a whopping nine representatives to All-Star weekend- the most by far of any team. Catcher Mike Napoli, Third baseman Adrian Beltre and outfielder Hamilton were all slated to start- only the New York Yankees were able to match Texas’ total of starters. Hamilton even set the record for fan balloting with over 11,000,000 votes.
Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus both earned reserve nods. Rookie Yu Darvish won the AL Final Vote, Upstart lefty Matt Harrison, who strung together 7 straight wins between May and July, and feel-good comeback closer Joe Nathan all earned spots on the pitching squads. An All-Star nod is sometimes a hollow reward, but on a macro level, Texas swath of representation showed something clearly: the team had busted through on a national level. They were recognized as a force.
The game itself wasn’t pretty for the Rangers in attendance. Not only did the American League lose 8-0, but the Texas batters went a combined 1-9- with Napoli recording the only hit. Hamilton came the closest to adding to the AL’s offensive cause with a warning-track flyout, but Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun made the catch just short of the left field wall. Darvish didn’t pitch in the game, but Joe Nathan was the first out of the bullpen for the AL, and recorded a shutout second. Harrison was shelled in fourth- allowing three earned runs, the most of any player in the game.
Moreover, for a team contending for a division crown and clear October dreams, the loss of home-field advantage- at that time, still determined by the result of the Midsummer classic- was a peripheral, but very real blow. Even so, Texas refocused with a home series in Arlington, and started off the second-half with back-to-back walk-off wins over Minnesota.
A win over Los Angeles on July 21st set Texas’ season-high watermark for games above .500 with a six-game cushion in the division. Even so, the team still had glaring weaknesses it had to address at the July 31 trade deadline. Oswalt began show his age in the starting rotation, and showed the Rangers needed to add another starter.
The early deadline darling emerged as Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke, who was just a few years removed from an AL Cy Young award in Kansas City in 2009. In 2012, he was one of the few bright spots on a struggling Brewers squad.
Texas had always been a mixed bag at the trade deadline at this point. In 2009, an overachieving Rangers squad, that would’ve been a playoff team with the two-Wild Card system adopted in 2012, considered trading for Toronto ace Roy Halladay. They nearly outbid the Angels in the last hour, only for Toronto to end up holding onto its top arm.
In 2010, the Rangers famously traded for Cliff Lee- an absolute win that directly related to the team’s October run. In 2011, the Rangers swung and missed in a trade with Baltimore for ace reliever Koji Uehara. In 2012, in the eyes of the fans and front office, it had to be Greinke.
Texas offered Leury Garcia, Chad Bell and Justin Grimm to the Brewers for his services- three players who would ultimately have negligible impacts on MLB teams. However, the Rangers wouldn’t budge on then highly-touted third base prospect Mike Olt, nor starter Martin Perez- which broke down the deal.
Hindsight is 20-20, but with today’s perspective, the Rangers probably make that trade 10 times out of 10. Instead, the second-place Angels ended up placing the winning bid with a package centered around Jean Segura- who turned out to be a solid starter for the Brewers in the coming seasons.
Not only did Texas miss out on its top deadline target- but the team chasing them in the division landed him. Greinke officially became a Halo on July 27, and the Angeles were four games back of the Rangers at that point. Their hand was truly forced, as the Oakland A’s- ranking 29th in payroll that year- shot out of a cannon in July, and were right in the thick of things in the division thanks to a 19-5 month.
Oakland’s burst also forced the Rangers’ hand. Not only did they need to fend off the bolstered Angels core, but also the upstart Athletics. Texas simply couldn’t afford to balk at the chance to land a starter.
Enter the Chicago Cubs and Ryan Dempster.
Dempster certainly wasn’t the Rangers’ first option. Texas heavily considered Tampa Bay’s James Shields and Miami’s Josh Johnson before starting trade talks with the Cubs. Dempster wasn’t a bad option by any means- at the deadline, he boasted an impressive 2.25 ERA, 0.78 HR-9 rate, and strong 3.78 K-BB ratio- all which ranked among NL leaders.
Chicago team president Theo Epstein, then in his second season at the helm with the Cubs, needed two players you’ve probably heard of to make the deal work- right-hander Kyle Hendricks and infielder Christian Villanueva. Hendricks was dominating Double-A that season, and is still an integral part of Chicago’s rotation. Villanueva surfaced in the bigs with San Diego in 2016.
Texas also added veteran Geovany Soto in a separate trade to backup Napoli behind the plate. The core was set- and the Rangers were ready to defend their crown against their two purveyors in the west. The team won 8 out of 11 to start the month of August to grab a season-best 6.5 game cushion on the division.
That month ended up being one of Texas’ strongest that year, matching a season-high with 19 wins in a calendar month. Unfortunately, Oakland also caught fire- winning 18 games and surpassing Los Angeles for second place.
It all came down to September, and a strong start saw the A’s get within three games back of Texas as baseball’s top prospect at the time Jurickson Profar made his debut with the Rangers in Cleveland. For the next few weeks, the teams would engage in a game of chicken- bobbing between a 2 and 5 game Ranger lead in the division. Los Angeles was a non-factor at this point-firmly set in third.
The Rangers were set for two of their last four series against Oakland that would likely determine the division- one in Arlington and one at O.Co Coliseum. In the home series, the Rangers grabbed a gutsy walk-off win in game one, only for nothing to be decided in the end after the teams split the four-game set.
A series loss to the Halos at home drew Oakland within two games, setting up the two for a heavyweight fight in California. They had lost four of six since the walk-off win over the A’s September 24. The team was struggling at this point- but all could be made right in the three-game set. The Rangers had led the division wire-to-wire since April.
As the calendar flipped to October, all the Rangers had to do was win one game to clinch a third straight playoff spot and division title.
This article is the second in a three-part series chronicling the consequential 2012 Texas Rangers season. Keep an eye out for part three next week and look back on part one if you missed it.
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