So, the Texas Rangers are a pretty good baseball team.
You probably noticed as much. The Rangers no longer have the best record in the American League after their loss to the Oakland A's on Thursday, but it should be pretty obvious that they're the strongest all-around team not just in the Junior Circuit, but in all of baseball.
If you want a more detailed breakdown of what makes the Rangers so good, I recommend the column that Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci published earlier this week. He breaks it all down, and frankly, there's not a whole lot that can be added to it by me or anyone else.
There was, however, one passage that caught my eye, and it's a passage that opens up an entirely different argument:
With [Josh] Hamilton at the peak of his game, the Rangers, too, have the look of a team that may be historic. Texas is destroying American League competition. This could be the best team since the 1998 Yankees. It has no weakness.
"Best team since the 1998 Yankees" is the part that stands out here, and that's high praise for these Rangers. The 1998 Bombers are the best team that I've ever seen in my lifetime, as brief as it's been to this point (I'm less than two weeks away from turning 25!). In the years since, I've been operating under the assumption that I'd never see a team as good as them ever again.
There is something about these Rangers, though. They have a special feel to them. There's a chance they may actually be better than the 1998 Yankees.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Time will tell in that regard. Before we can declare the 2012 Rangers as good or better than the 1998 Yankees, they need to win at least 114 games during the regular season and then win the World Series. As far as to-do lists go, that's a doozy.
Since none of us possess a time machine capable of taking us forward in time to October so we can learn the Rangers'' postseason fate, we can't know for sure if they're better than the '98 Yanks.
We can, however, put these two teams side by side and see how they match up.
Examining the 1998 Yankees
When we think of tremendous offensive clubs, we think of the 1927 New York Yankees, not the 1998 New York Yankees.
Maybe we should amend our thinking. The '98 Yanks led baseball in runs scored with 965, and they were able to do that because they had a ridiculously balanced lineup.
Go to Baseball-Reference.com and take a look at that team's starting lineup. None of the team's regulars had an OPS under .700, and seven of them had OPS over .800. All nine of their regulars finished with double-digit home runs, and eight of them hit at least 17 home runs. Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill and Darryl Strawberry all hit over 20.
The Yankees had speed too. Six players stole double-digit bases, with Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter both stealing over 30 bases.
It was a lineup with no easy outs, and they had impressive depth too. Who can ever forget the great Shane Spencer?
Naturally, the '98 Yankees could pitch as well. Overall, they finished with a team ERA of 3.82, and that was a product of great work from both the team's starting rotation and its bullpen. The rotation had an ERA of 3.85. The bullpen had an ERA of 3.76.
That kind of balance is uncanny.
All five of the Yankees' starters won at least 12 games that season. David Cone led the way with 20, and David Wells was right behind him with 18. Orlando Hernandez was the low man in the rotation with 12 wins, but all of those came after June. Had he played the first two months of the season, he would have made a run at 20.
Mariano Rivera was still a young man in 1998, and he saved 36 games that year with a 1.91 ERA. He had great setup men in Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and Graeme Lloyd, and Ramiro Mendoza had a 1.93 ERA as a reliever that season.
There's a reason the '98 Yankees won 114 games and then won the World Series. It's because they were as close to perfect as a baseball team can possibly be.
Examining the 2012 Rangers
The '98 Yankees were great because their pitching staff could match up with anybody and because their offense was the best in the league.
This profile fits this year's Rangers pretty well. They lead the league in runs scored this season, and they've allowed fewer runs than any team in the American League. Their +77 run differential is the best in baseball by a comfortable margin.
One category the Yankees didn't lead the league in back in 1998 was slugging percentage. The 2012 Rangers currently are leading the league in team slugging percentage, and that should come as no surprise.
Virtually everyone in Texas' lineup can mash. Six of the Rangers' regulars have slugging percentages of .425 or above, with Josh Hamilton leading the way with an absurd .838 slugging percentage. He also leads baseball in batting average, home runs, RBI and, well, pretty much everything else.
We don't know the final numbers yet, but it's a good bet that Texas' lineup will spread around the power just as much as the Yankees were able to do in 1998. The one thing they won't do as well is steal bases, but they don't really need to given the sheer amount of power their lineup is packing on a nightly basis.
Pitching-wise, the Rangers currently have a team ERA of 3.18, which is good for second in the majors. Their starting rotation boasts an ERA of 3.62, and their bullpen has a major league-best 2.13 ERA.
Four of Texas' five starting pitchers have ERAs under 4.00, with the lone exception being Matt Harrison. Yu Darvish has been the best of the bunch, as he has a 6-1 record and a 2.60 ERA, and he also ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts. As a group, it's a pretty good rotation.
Is it as good as the Yankees' rotation was back in '98? No, and I don't there's really much of an argument there. Those Yankees had two co-aces in Cone and Wells, and Pettitte and Hernandez were aces at the back end. The Rangers only have one ace (Darvish), and his career is just a couple weeks old.
These Rangers have far more depth in their bullpen than the '98 Yankees did. They have six relievers who have made at least 12 appearances, and all six of them have ERAs under 3.00. Three of them boast a K/9 over 10.00.
Joe Nathan, however, is not Mariano Rivera. The 2012 Rangers are not as secure in the ninth inning as the '98 Yankees were.
Still, Nathan is pretty good, and the fact of the matter is that this Rangers team isn't going to need an elite closer nine nights out of every 10.
The Grand Conclusion
So then, which of these two clubs is the superior team: the '98 Yankees or the '12 Rangers?
Full disclosure: I hate answering questions like these. But if you were to put me in a headlock and start giving me nuggies, I'd tell you the truth.
The correct answer is the 1998 New York Yankees.
Side-by-side, I found the comparison to be a lot closer than I expected it to be. The 2012 Rangers stack up pretty well with the 1998 Yankees on paper. They're more powerful than the '98 Yankees, they have a truly great player in Josh Hamilton, and they have the edge when it comes to bullpen depth.
The '98 Yankees get the overall edge because they had a more balanced, more dynamic lineup to go along with a very deep, very talented starting rotation. And despite the relative lack of depth in their bullpen, I'll take Mo Rivera in his prime over Joe Nathan any day of the week.
Plus, as good as they are, I don't see the Rangers winning as many as 114 games this season. The Yankees were the one truly great team in the AL in 1998, but the Rangers aren't really alone in that regard this season. They're the best team in the Junior Circuit, but there are more than a couple teams that can match up with them.
Lastly, let's be clear about one thing: This Rangers team is far, far, far from a lock to win the World Series. They haven't been able to win it either of the last two seasons, and this team isn't head and shoulders better than the 2010 and 2011 versions.
They're definitely good, but they have a lot of work to do before they can claim to be as good or better than the 1998 Yankees.
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