Entering the season, most commentators were preemptively declaring 2012 to be the year of the Angels. The singing of Albert Pujols from free agency—to say nothing of the acquisition of former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson —was to signal a death knell of the nascent emergence of the Texas Rangers as the team to beat.
My, how the tables have turned. One month in, it's the Rangers who have the best record in baseball. Their pitching staff has given up fewer runs than any other team in the American League, and their offense is hitting better than any other in the majors.
By necessity, any article about the team is going to be laudatory—with one month of the season behind us, the Rangers aren’t presenting any weaknesses. But since this year may mark the formation of a true Rangers dynasty—remember, the boys from Arlington have won not just the last two AL West division titles, but the last two AL pennants—let’s take a spin through the clubhouse and figure out what’s truly making this team tick.
The big story here has to be Josh Hamilton. Concerns flew in the preseason as the 2010 MVP and substance abuse survivor was reported as having had an alcohol relapse in February. But whatever personal demons may have been roused in Hamilton’s mind certainly have not turned up at the plate—unless, that is, they’re just adding fuel to the fire. Everyone seems to be discussing the way Matt Kemp is crushing the ball, and he certainly is—but so is Hamilton. Hamilton’s BA/HR/RBI line of .395/9/225 puts him just .005 points behind Derek Jeter for complete control of the AL triple crown.
But the scariest part is, Hamilton’s not alone.
This year, the whole Rangers' lineup seems to be hitting well. In Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler, the team boasts four starters averaging .300 or better, and Mike Napoli is contributing as well: he leads all major league catchers in home runs.
There’s just no one to pitch around in this Rangers' lineup, and for opposing pitchers, that’s got to be scary.
While we’re on the subject, let's talk about the Rangers’ pitching. It’s easy to slip into blind adoration of the Rangers’ potent lineup and forget about the other half, but to do so would be a grave error. Because in addition to having the best hitters in the game, it’s possible that the 2012 Rangers’ pitching staff—and not just their starting rotation, but their staff as a whole—may also be the best in the bigs.
To start: Darvish. Yes, Yu Darvish is not really a “rookie” in the traditional sense, as he spent plenty of time honing his craft in Japan. But that didn’t stop Ichiro Suzuki from claiming Rookie of the Year honors in his first season in MLB, and it likely won’t stop Darvish from doing the same. He’s tied for fifth in the AL in strikeouts and tied for first in wins; if he can keep anywhere near this pace throughout the season, there’s no question that Darvish was worth the large sum the Rangers spent on him.
But Darvish isn’t the beginning and the end of this conversation. Starters Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison are getting it done too, and though the Derek Holland is the low man on the totem pole in the rotation, his perfectly acceptable 2-2 win-loss record gives him—amazingly—the second-worst win-loss ratio on the entire Rangers staff.
Chew on that for a while.
Despite playing in the hitter-happy AL, the Rangers’ combined staff ERA is under 3.00. That’s just crazy. Their two big middle relievers—Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams—have combined to give up just three earned runs in 21 and two-thirds innings. They’re effectively a pair of Mariano Riveras—in his prime—hanging out in the bullpen, waiting to quench opponents’ rallies as needed.
There are no other word for what the Rangers’ staff is doing with the baseball right now than this: wow.
It’s a subject rarely discussed, but let’s say it: guys seem to love playing for manager Ron Washington. Although his future looked dicey during the 2010 exposure of his cocaine use, he bounced back, and how: The admission to his failings earned the respect of his players, and since then, Washington has guided the squad to back-to-back World Series berths.
This is something I get, having grown up in New York in the 80's. With Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Keith Hernandez all playing for my local team, it seemed to me that doing coke was practically a prerequisite to play in the MLB. And have you heard the news about Oil Can Boyd?
Although the Rangers have yet to win a World Series—ever—they have earned all of their postseason series victories (and all of their individual postseason game wins, too, save one) under Washington’s helm.
And that says a lot not only for his ability and character, but also for the limitless potential of this powerhouse Rangers squad.
In short, the Rangers appear poised for greatness. Is this going to be the year they break through and finally take home the crown?
Team owner Nolan Ryan would certainly love that.