I’m not counting the Rangers out yet.
The Texas Rangers are about to become a case study in how an organization reacts to the toughest times. Here’s betting we’re reminded that they are a great franchise–deep and resilient and talented.
Can they still win the American League West? At a time when they’ve been absolutely crushed by injuries–”startling” is the word general manager Jon Daniels uses to describe the number–it would be silly to think they could finish in front of the Oakland A’s. They’re probably not better than the Angels or Mariners, either.
On the other hand, who knows who things will look three months from now? Daniels has constructed a baseball operation built to last, an organization respected throughout the game for its excellence.
The Rangers have averaged 93 wins the last four seasons. In that stretch, they’ve been to the World Series twice, the American League Wild Card game once and forced a 163rd game playoff with the Rays once.
And there’s not a better baseball area than Dallas-Fort Worth. The Rangers have drawn an average of 3.1 million fans the last three seasons, and local television and radio ratings have soared.
All that success breeds organizational confidence, and manager Ron Washington is a huge part of the equation. As the clubhouse has transitioned from Michael Young’s team to Adrian Beltre’s, as players have come and gone, Washington has been able to keep the group focused on a common goal.
No matter how many injuries have, the Rangers will continue to compete hard and be professional. This is the kind of thing that sounds hokey, but as players come and go and as youngsters get their chance, clubs can be dramatically transformed in a short period of time.
For core players like Beltre and Elvis Andrus and Colby Lewis, their relentless approach to preparation and professionalism is more important than ever. There’s a dynamic in clubhouses that have developed a winning culture. The collective ego of the group believes it can withstand any losses because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
That’s important as the Rangers hand the ball to starting pitchers they never envisioned being in their 2014 plans. For instance, 23-year-old right-hander Nick Martinez.
They envisioned him being one of the anchors of their rotation for a long time. They just never imagined they would be leaning on him in 2014. And they’ve got a slew of other kids in their system–Luke Jackson and Alec Asher and Alex Gonzalez–who could end up being critical a year or two before they were scheduled to arrive.
This wasn’t the original blueprint. But Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz haven’t pitched an inning in the big leagues this season. Matt Harrison and Martin Perez probably won’t pitch another. That’s four guys Daniels had penciled into his rotation behind Yu Darvish.
Instead, the Rangers have had to turn relievers into starters and scramble to find solutions. As a result, Texas starters have a 4.60 ERA. Only two teams have been worse.
And that’s only part of the story.
Beltre is just back from a stint on the Disabled List. Second baseman Jurickson Profar has spent the season on the DL. First baseman Prince Fielder, a big-ticket off-season acquisition, has just three home runs.
So here’s how the Rangers go to the postseason for the fourth time in five years. First, their stars must perform like stars. Darvish, Beltre, Andrus, Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo have to do the things they were supposed to do.
Holland has to contribute in the second half of the season, and indications are that he will. Lewis must continue his remarkable recovery from hip surgery. And then some of the kids–Martinez, Nick Tepesch, etc.–must take advantage of the opportunity. If, say, Tanner Scheppers or Neftali Feliz can return and pitch at a high level, the Rangers have a decent chance to make a run in the second half.
Daniels has channeled resources and manpower into hiring first-rate scouts, coaches and instructors to allow the Rangers to sustain their success. This is one of those seasons when everything he has worked toward will be tested. Here’s betting it passes with flying colors.