The Rangers? For Real??
Having grown up in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area- I must confess I am loyal, die hard, yet very jaded Texas Rangers fan. I have fond memories of following the younger teams in the eighties chasing the Angels to the end for the pennant. I remember the buzz in the air around marquee player acquisitions such as Nolan Ryan, Harold Baines and Alex Rodriguez, just to name a few. I can recall the fever and excitement over our quick starts and mid season leads, thinking this may finally be the year! And yet, year after year, our hopes have been dashed and our hearts have been continuously broken, jaded and filled with cynicism. Even our absolute best of years have ended with disappointing first round playoff exits, courtesy of the New York Yankees.
So again, the Rangers have a lead in the AL West, looking to win the division and something inside of me cringes. Are these the same Rangers that will choke down the stretch or at best get ousted in the first round of the playoffs? Have they just beaten up on all of the soft teams? Are they just a bunch of pretenders temporarily playing beyond their abilities? Or, could these Rangers be for real? If so, what is so different about these Rangers from the con artist Rangers of old?
The first obvious difference between these Rangers and past teams is the pitching. The Rangers of the past had to rely on big bats, rallies and big innings to win games, but now the pitching is strong enough to keep them in games when they are not hitting. If healthy, this starting staff has a chance to be perhaps the best the Rangers have had. The addition of Cliff Lee (9-4, 2.56) gives the Rangers something they haven’t had in over a decade, a legitimate starting ace. The emergence of prospect Tommy Hunter (8-0, 2.31) and bullpen pitcher CJ Wilson (9-5, 3.03) along with free agent acquisition Colby Lewis (9-6, 3.52) gives the Rangers the best 4 man punch in its history. And if Harden can return to his old form for the remainder of the season (ok, that is a big if), the Rangers could arguably have the best rotation in baseball.
Second, this team has been built the right way. Unlike the success of teams, such as the Yankees, in “buying championships”, this strategy only led the Rangers down the path of self delusion and financial ruin. Jon Daniels, with the help of Nolan Ryan, has rebuilt this team from the ground up through solid drafting and developing a strong minor league system with many prospects. He has also traded for key prospects, such as Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Neftali Feliz, all of which have developed into All Star players. Daniels has also been able to make key low risk free agent acquisitions, such as Colby Lewis, Vladimir Guerrero and Rich Harden.
And last but not least, under Ron Washington as manager, the Rangers play baseball “the right way” or in a fun, aggressive, but team oriented style of play. They no longer need to rely on the occasional big innings as they have increased their ability to manufacture runs through stolen bases, sacrifice bunts, and RBI sacrifices. And the Rangers are winning because of the improved play of their defense (.982 fielding) in addition to the improvement of their starting pitching and their bullpen, which together bosts a 3.84 ERA good for eighth best in baseball. Time will only tell just how different this Rangers team is from their predecessors, but as jaded and oft disappointed fan, this year, I am cautiously optimistic.