The 2010 Texas Rangers came seemingly out of nowhere to advance all the way to the World Series. They eventually lost to the red hot San Francisco Giants, but the experience that this club gave Rangers fans everywhere was like none other.
If I would have told you that a team that fielded Scott Feldman as its Opening Day starter would advance all the way to the World Series you would have awkwardly chuckled and walked away.
But that is just what the Rangers did, just without the postseason assistance of Feldman. Instead, they decided to trade for Cliff Lee signaling the turning point in a Rangers franchise that is now becoming accustomed to winning.
While the 2010 team was special, the 2011 team could be even better. You would never know it because of the high expectations the 2010 team set, but the Rangers are 13 games over .500.
Fans want to focus more on the ineffectiveness of the bullpen or the lack of defense, but while battling all of these shortcomings the Rangers are just three games behind the pace of last year's team.
Let's go ahead and address the negative first. Yes, the bullpen has been bad, but with the recent trades for two of the top relievers in all of baseball, the Rangers have effectively turned a weakness into a pretty defined strength.
There have not been many better setup men than Mike Adams over the last few years, and Koji Uehara has been just about unhittable this season.
Plugging these two guys into seventh- and eighth-innings role will shore up a bullpen that has used everyone from Darren Oliver to Dave Bush to try and get the game to Neftali Feliz.
Turning games into six inning affairs will help keep a young and inexperienced pitching staff fresh in October. With Adams and Uehara, the bullpen is starting to look quite a bit like the stellar one from 2010.
Then they used Alexi Ogando, Frank Francisco and Darren O'Day to hold the lead for Feliz, now it is Adams and Uehara.
While the jury is still out on the new and improved bullpen, there is no question that the pitching staff is better this season. Last season, the Rangers had 10 different pitchers over the course of the season start a game. How many can you name? Go ahead, I'll wait.
If you said Scott Feldman, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Rich Harden, Derek Holland, Cliff Lee, Matt Harrison, Dustin Nippert, Omar Beltre and Tommy Hunter then congratulations are in order. Omar Beltre tripped me up I'll admit.
In 2011, just six. Dave Bush snuck three spot starts in before being let go earlier in the summer while the original starting five of Wilson, Lewis, Holland, Harrison and Alexi Ogando have been just incredible.
Wilson has proven himself as a legitimate ace of a staff that most people thought they did not have. With a 10-5 record on the season and an ERA in the low threes, Wilson has been one of the Rangers most consistent pitchers.
Wilson was selected to his first All-Star game in July and is positioning himself for a nice payday when he becomes a free agent after the season.
Without a doubt, the most surprising pitcher on the staff has been Alexi Ogando who was a converted reliever expected to just fill in while Tommy Hunter recovered from an injury.
His first start he went six-innings of two-hit shutout ball against division foe Seattle and has yet to relinquish his spot. Ogando was selected to the All-Star as well and has only given up more than three runs in a start three times.
Matt Harrison is probably the most underrated pitcher on the entire staff. He has pitched three games in which he did not allow a run and has only given up more than three runs four times. His ERA has been consistently in the low three with a current ERA of 2.94.
He has pitched like a No. 2 starter but is technically the fourth man in the rotation, a definite luxury.
Colby Lewis and Derek Holland have been the most inconsistent pitchers this season but they are both showing signs of turning it around at just the right time.
Lewis, the team's third starter in the playoff last year has lowered his ERA a full run since June 11 in which he has thrown a two, three and a four-hitter.
Derek Holland on July 2 boasted a 5.10 ERA. Since then he has thrown three complete game shutouts lowering it to a more respectable 4.14.
He is now tied with former Ranger Cliff Lee for the major league lead in complete game shutouts with four.
Last season the Rangers went into the playoffs worried about their fourth starter. Would Tommy Hunter be what the team needed to win a crucial game?
This year it's a similar situation. Who will be the fourth starter should they make the playoffs? But this season, it's a little different.
It's more like, "Who are we going to leave out of the playoff rotation?"
The No. 3 guy from last season who was in 3-0 in postseason play with a 1.71 ERA in Lewis? A guy with the most shutouts in the majors and who has arguably the most swing-and-miss stuff on the staff in Holland?
Or Harrison who has an ERA under three and consistently gives you quality starts and then some? Even without Cliff Lee, this is a legit playoff rotation.
What about batting? How can a team improve on No. 1 offense from the previous season in which it's best player hit .359 and won the MVP award? Let's look at the stats.
The 2010 Texas Rangers hit .276 as a team, hit 162 home runs and stole 123 bases. Led by crazy numbers from Josh Hamilton and a stellar first half from free-agent acquisition Vladimir Guerrero, the Rangers were a dynamic offense.
The 2011 Rangers? They're hitting .276 as a team, have already hit 130 home runs and stolen 99 bases. That means the Rangers are on pace to hit 193 home runs and steal 147 bases while still maintaining the high batting average.
This is a team that only has 13 home runs and a .306 batting average from Hamilton. This means that everyone is stepping up. From Mitch Moreland to Mike Napoli, they're getting the job done.
What will be the difference in the playoffs though? Adrian Beltre.
Beltre has been phenomenal this season and is currently sixth in runs batted in even though he has missed the last week-and-a-half with an injury.
He is batting right on par with the team average at .276 while hitting 20 home runs and driving in 76 runs.
Vladimir Guerrero, clean up batter from a year ago, had a dreadful postseason. In 59 at-bats he had an average of .220 with no home runs and only six runs batted in.
In the World Series he had one hit. One.
It doesn't matter what Beltre does, he probably can't do much worse than Guerrero. He's younger and he plays the field which allows him to stay in the flow of the game rather than riding the bench for three innings then trying to hit.
The Rangers will go as far as Beltre's prowess at the plate will take them.
But what makes them dangerous, possibly even more so than last year? Experience.
Many of the Rangers last year were in the postseason for the very first time in their career let alone the World Series. They did not seem phased against the Rays or even the all-powerful Yankees in the ALCS, but in the World Series they collapsed from dominating pitching by the Giants.
Now, nearly every Ranger knows what it takes to get back to where they want to be, which is a very dangerous thing.
These Rangers have shown their perseverance through injuries, hitting slumps and shaky bullpen play to be right where they want to be, first place.
And with the Angels hot on their tails, they will have no time to coast into the playoffs. Buckle up, it should be one heck of a ride.