Team Profile – Texas Rangers
The Rangers are looking for a third-straight trip to the World Series, and are making a very strong case for just that. The offseason saw the loss of a staff ace, and the pickup of a coveted foreign free agent. The offense continues to be the overall best in the game, and the bullpen keeps finding production from players that should be well-beyond their careers. However, despite the continued (and probably long time to come) success, the race for the A.L. West isn’t over yet. Oakland has come on strong in the second half, and is only 4.5 games out of the division lead. So Texas must continue to play its best baseball to the very end.
When C.J. Wilson walked away from the Rangers to head to the Los Angeles Angels, there were a lot of Rangers fans that were dreading what would happen this season. After all, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Colby Lewis were mediocre at best. Then, the Rangers won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, and the Japanese pitching phenom made his way to the states. Darvish started off strong, and has kept up a pretty great rookie campaign (and would likely be a contender for Rookie of the Year, if not for Mike Trout), going 16-9 so far, with a 3.90 ERA and 214 strikeouts.
Then, something amazing happened. Almost everyone else in the rotation stepped up, and now the Rangers are sitting on several starting pitchers that can actually be threats to opposing teams. Matt Harrison should garner some Cy Young consideration, with his 17-9 record, with a 3.26 ERA. Yu Darvish will still get some Rookie of the Year votes (even though Trout should win it unanimously). Derek Holland was supposed to be the new ace, but instead proved to be a reliable Number Three or Four starter. If the rotation can continue performing to this caliber through the season, then the Rangers will, for sure, find success in October.
There are too many good things to say about this offense. The biggest strength of the Rangers is that, from top to bottom, there isn’t a weak link in the chain. Whether it’s Josh Hamilton, who has 42 home runs, more than 120 RBIs, and a .280 average; Adrian Beltre, David Murphy, and Craig Gentry, who are all hitting over .300; or Nelson Cruz, who’s only hitting .265, but still has 85 RBIs, this team is loaded. There are no weak links, and Major League Baseball knows it.
Like the rotation and the offense, the Rangers’ bullpen is full of quality guys that make the group better from top to bottom. There’s no shortage of talent, from Alexi Ogando, to Neftali Feliz to Scott Feldman (who’s also spent the season in the starting rotation) to Koji Uehara, there are so many talented, successful pieces in this bullpen that it’s almost not fair. How the Rangers seem to get the absolute best from nearly everyone that plays on this team is a mystery to me. It’s a mystery that someone needs to figure out, because obviously something is being done right in Arlington year in and year out.
The biggest story, as far as I’m concerned, though is Joe Nathan. In his last couple years in Minnesota, Nathan looked dead. He was injured, he looked defeated, and he didn’t seem like he had what it took to be a top quality pitcher, let alone a top closer. He was replaced as closer by the Twins, and when he became a free agent, he was picked up by Texas. The Rangers wanted him to close games, and that’s exactly what they made him do. And, like everyone else, Nathan responded in a big, big way. In 2012, he’s 34/36 in save opportunities, with a 2.73 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. How long he can keep it up, I don’t know (he is getting older, after all). But it cannot be argued that his career has been anything but revitalized in Texas this season.
Keys to Success
Honestly, with only a handful of games left to go this season, I hardly thought that Texas would be the team that still needed keys to success. But the Athletics really came on strong in the second half, and with 12 games left to play, they’re only 4.5 out of first place. Which means that the Rangers still need to watch their backs. Fortunately, this Texas team is, from top to bottom, the best in the American League, and possibly all of baseball. If all three aspects of the team continue to perform even remotely like they have all season, then the Rangers will find their way back to the postseason again, and have another shot at a World Series run.