Rangers shaping up as the best team in baseball
With two wild-card teams this year, it's hard to imagine a scenario by which powerhouse Texas doesn't get a chance to defend its two American League pennants in the postseason.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
I'll admit it: I wondered if the Rangers would be able to overcome the devastating end to their 2011 season, when they had a World Series title ripped from their grasp — twice — by the Cardinals.
Obviously, that heartbreak is really holding them back. I mean, entering the weekend, they HAD lost two games. Though if Joe Nathan hadn't blown a couple of games in the ninth — including a 3-1 lead against the Mariners he couldn't hold — they could have been a perfect 13-0.
What's becoming increasingly apparent is that the 2012 Rangers are a powerhouse. Whether that means they will earn that elusive World Series title, or even if they will hold off the early struggling Angels, remains to be seen.
But the Rangers are shaping up as the most dominant team in the majors. With two wild-card teams this year, it's hard to imagine a scenario by which they don't get a chance to defend their two American League pennants in the postseason.
Pitching? Rangers starters are 10-1 and their team earned-run average of 2.55 is lowest in the AL and fourth-best in the majors, behind the Nationals (2.34), Phillies (2.41) and Pirates (2.53). The Rangers lost their top winner, C.J. Wilson, to the rival Angels but responded by signing Yu Darvish, who has been shaky with his control but should get better as he adjusts to his new league. The bullpen is deep and talented, though Nathan, not far removed from Tommy John surgery, bears watching.
Hitting? The aforementioned Phillies have supported their pitchers with a paltry 42 runs, second-fewest in the majors. The Rangers, on the other hand, have had the most potent attack in MLB, leading in runs (91), batting average (.307), slugging percentage (.508) and OPS (.870). They are second, behind only the Yankees, in home runs (25) and on-base percentage (.362).
In fact, there is even talk that the Rangers have such a potent attack that they could become the third team in the last 75 seasons to score 1,000 runs.
It's ridiculously early to ponder such matters, especially in a season in which the early indications are for another offensively challenged year in the majors. Scoring is down nearly 10 percent in the early going, after a 2011 season in which offense dropped to a two-decade low. But the Rangers are belying that trend, and after 15 games are on pace for 983 runs. The 1999 Indians of Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, et al, were the last team to score 1,000 runs (1,009), and before that was the 1950 Red Sox (1,027).
The upshot is a six-game AL West lead by Texas over the Angels in what was expected to be the most hotly contested division race in baseball. And I fully expect it will be just that eventually, once Albert Pujols catches fire for Los Angeles.
And we all know he will. For now, though, Pujols is getting a little snippy about the focus on his lack of homers. He has no homers and four RBI in 15 games, but ripped three doubles on Thursday.
"I can't wait until I hit a home run so you guys will stop talking about it," Pujols said after that game, in which he missed a home run by just a few feet on one double off the top of the left-field wall.
"I know I have power. I know I can hit the ball corner to corner. ... I don't get caught up in that. I know I have 445, 444 home runs in my career for a reason."
The Rangers, meanwhile, have two players at .400 or better (Josh Hamilton and Michael Young), while Ian Kinsler is on pace to score 173 runs. The paces will wane, but the Rangers appear built for the long haul.
Oh, and you want to hear something that will make you cringe if you're a Mariners fan? The Rangers, already possessing a bountiful farm system and a loaded major-league squad, have five of the first 93 picks in the June draft. They received compensatory picks for losing free agents Wilson to the Angels and Darren Oliver to the Blue Jays.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.