Leading the Way
Why the Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League right now
Two months into the MLB season, and the Texas Rangers have never looked better. On June 3, the team took the opportunity before a six-game road trip to Boston and Toronto to reflect on their early success.
Any reflection on 2013 starts with what the Rangers are — the best team in the American League. The record may not always reflect that, nor does the tightness of the West Division race with Oakland. But you still won't be able to identify a team that has been more consistent in the American League than the Rangers.
This is a team that took a month to lose back-to-back games and nearly two months to lose three in a row. The Rangers have drawn a million fans at home, where they’ve won nine of 11 series.
Before the season, the trendy pick was the Angels in the West, who had just signed Josh Hamilton away from the Rangers to pair with Albert Pujols. They’re sitting more than 10 games behind the Rangers.
The Rangers have become what the Angels used to be — a pitching-rich team — and lead the division.
The Angels have become what the Rangers used to be — an offensive-driven team — and are flailing as a result. The Rangers have become what the Angels used to be — a pitching-rich team — and lead the division.
Yu Darvish is poised to win a Cy Young Award. He’s 6-1 after a Rangers loss, and he took the win Sunday against Kansas City after a loss. Derek Holland has finally combined quality with consistency. While Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis are on the disabled list, quality depth like Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch and Ross Wolf has picked up the Rangers. The bullpen has been mighty, and closer Joe Nathan has been stellar.
The injuries are concerning. Along with the starting pitchers, reliever Joakim Soria is on the DL. So is second baseman Ian Kinsler, and the Rangers miss his overall skills at the top of the order. But every Ranger on the DL right now has the chance to return this year, and that could fortify a team that has shown grit and resolve.
Look at last week. The Rangers had that bizarre two-game series, a doubleheader in Arizona on Memorial Day; an off day at home, followed by a two-day series with Arizona, one of which was rained out; and a three-game series with Kansas City.
The Rangers went 3-1 at home despite the strange scheduling.
“It was very stressful, that’s for certain,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of the past week. “Through it all we stayed focused and tried to do the best we could. [Sunday] we fought back and took one back.”
The offense has looked inconsistent at times. Adrian Beltre had a huge May. Free-agent pickups A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman have been solid, though Berkman has tailed off the past two weeks. Prized rookie Jurickson Profar had a clutch home run to win Sunday’s game with Kansas City.
But for anyone who believes this team lacks the pop to contend with teams like Detroit, Boston and Oakland, consider these two pieces of information. First, in 56 games so far, the Rangers have failed to hit a home run just six times. In fact, if homers are all you care about, Nelson Cruz has 13, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland each have 11, and Kinsler and David Murphy each have seven. The power isn’t restricted to one or two players.
Second, the Rangers have scored seven runs or more in as many games as they’ve scored two or fewer runs (16). Why is that important? The Rangers are 16-0 when they score seven or more. You expect a team to win those games. The Rangers are 2-14 when they score two or fewer runs. You expect a team to lose those games.
The Rangers are 17-7 in all other games. Those “other games” are when great pitching and timely hitting matter the most. If the Rangers keep winning those games, there’s little to stop them from winning a third American League West title in four years.