Last year was only the 2nd season since 1999 that the Texas Rangers finished a season above .500. Even with a 2nd place finish in 2009, the Rangers finished 10 games back of Anaheim. Ranger fans have seen a lot of great players since the last division winner in 1999, but the one thing they haven’t seen is a playoff victory. The Rangers have only made the playoffs 3 times in franchise history with only 1 win in the postseason to show for it (that came in 1996).
So what is different about this team? I will give you one word, pitching. Through 97 games the Rangers have an ERA of 3.81. The last time Texas has had an ERA under 4 was 1990. That team had the likes of Nolan Ryan, Charlie Hough, Bobby Witt, Kevin Brown, and Kenny Rogers (who led the team in saves). The pitching staff even included a young 27 year-old named Jamie Moyer who is still going strong 20 years later.
Surprisingly they are doing this with Rich Harden (3-3 5.68 era) and Scott Feldman (5-8 5.48 era) having horrible years. Instead it has been the likes of Colby Lewis (9-6 3.52 era), C J Wilson (9-5 3.03 era), and Tommy Hunter (7-0 2.09 era) anchoring the rotation. And this year the big addition was not a mediocre end of the rotation starter but one of the best pitchers in baseball, Cliff Lee. For the first time in years, the Rangers have a legit ace on the staff. Not only an ace, but one with solid playoff experience and success.
Throw in the success of the bullpen this year, and the staff has been solid all year long. Neftali Feliz has been lights out in the 9th closing down games converting 27 of 29 save chances. But a closer is only as good as his setup men. If you can’t get the ball to your closer with the lead, he won’t be effective. The Rangers have done that well all year long. The ageless wonder Darren Oliver (42 IP, 1.29 era) has returned to Texas in a big way. Anchoring down the pen with Feliz and Oliver is Darren O’Day and Frank Francisco. Throw in Matt Harrison who has been in the pen and in the rotation along with youngster Alexi Ogando and the Rangers are poised to make a run at the playoffs.
The only concern I have about the pitching staff is the work load some of them will face. C J Wilson has been in the bullpen for 93.5% of his MLB career and has already pitched 50 innings more than last year. So how he will hold up come late August and September is anyone’s guess. Colby Lewis pitched in Japan last year where they throw every 6 days. Nobody is sure how that will effect him come late in the season. They are also relying on Tommy Hunter who is young. The good thing is Cliff Lee. He is a work horse who will eat up innings which will help the bullpen as well. That is the last worry point, the bullpen. They have been well used so far this year with the struggles of Harden and Feldman. Will they get enough rest to pitch well down the stretch remains to be seen.
As the Offense goes, it has been impressive. Josh Hamilton (23/71/.354) is hitting out of his mind right now. He has been unbelievable so far this year, and he has protection. Hitting in front of him is Bad Vlad Guerrero (20/76/.313) and behind him Nelson Cruz (12/52/.329). Not to mention the solid seasons that Micheal Young (14/57/.302) and Elvis Andrus are having. There are two spots of worry for the offense, firstbase and catcher. These areas really need an upgrade before the postseason, but it looks like that will depend on what happens with the ownership situation.
Any Ranger fan has to be excited about the prospects in the postseason this year. With a solid offense, a new ace in Cliff Lee, and 3 solid #2 starters for playoff series in Wilson, Hunter, and Lewis, the Rangers are poised to make a run at their first World Series appearance. The question remains how will they deal with the dog days of summer.