Raise your hand if you thought the Texas Rangers would have a winning record in the month of September.
Now raise your hand if you thought these same Rangers that lost ace Yu Darvish in Spring Training would be two games off first place in the A.L. West and in a pennant race.
Didn’t think so. And neither did I.
The year after I was born, the Rangers won their first pennant in franchise history, so needless to say, I am a Rangers fan by birth. In fact, my dad saved all the newspaper headlines from that season and they are currently hanging in my first apartment, but I digress.
The point I am trying to make is Rangers fans everywhere have likely been through it all. From the high of the first World Series in 2010, to the low of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series and to the absolute atrocity that was the 2014 season, Rangers fans never waiver. And whatever the case may be, Rangers fans are usually in it through and through, which is why we deserve a winner now more than ever.
Texas has played its best baseball this season with its back against the wall. Remember the 21-5 blowout loss to the Yankees at the end of July? The Rangers have compiled a 26-13 record since that embarrassment, a mark good enough to put them right back in the running for the division. Even more impressive, General Manager Jon Daniels went out at the trade deadline, just three days after that blowout loss to New York, and acquired ace Cole Hamels. A gutsy move at the time, some are now comparing this acquisition to the Cliff Lee trade of 2010, a move that got the club to its first ever World Series.
Now days, it seems like the PowerAde showers during the post-game interviews are almost expected, with Texas playing consistent, winning baseball.
It hasn’t all been easy for the Rangers, which is why they should be considered a legitimate threat. I can’t think of one time this season where every single person in the lineup was firing on all cylinders. Elvis Andrus was horrendous before the All-Star break, hitting an anemic .242 the first half of the season. However, since mid-July, Elvis has added .46 points to his average, hitting a respectable .288. More than that, Andrus has made plays in the field and picked up the slack for the middle of the order.
This sort of improvement exemplifies the “next man up” mentality Texas has had since the first pitch in April. When Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre went cold the past few weeks, guys like Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo, who has reached base safely in the past 10 games, shoulder the burden. It’s an ideal that many teams try to have, but few have the talent to actually execute it.
Look back to April and May, when Texas was rolling out Wandy Rodriguez and Neftali Feliz. Who would have thought Shawn Tolleson, a complete nobody before the season started, would be 31 for 33 in save opportunities? Who would have thought the Rangers would have done enough to survive the Wandy Rodriguez starts when Derek Holland and Martin Perez rehabbed injuries?
The Rangers had absolutely no expectations coming into this season. Maybe that was a good thing.
When Darvish was lost to Tommy John surgery, just about everyone, myself included, predicted the club would be cellar dwellers for a second straight year. Yet here we are with three weeks of the season to go, and meaningful baseball to play. Here we are with a full compliment of players, and a bullpen that looks more like savvy veterans than first year rookies.
Texas’ lineup isn’t without issues. The team struggles mightily against left handed pitching. Yes, they brought in Mike Napoli to combat that, but how much can he really provide? One has to doubt he is still capable of hitting above .300 in a playoff series. Josh Hamilton has a nagging knee injury, and DeLino Deshields suffered a knee injury of his own two nights ago, leaving the outfield looking like a mix and match out of a buffet. Nevertheless, the Rangers find ways to win. Whether its a gutsy outing by Colby Lewis, who still leads the team in wins with a record of 14-8, or Yovani Gallardo quietly doing his part as the 3rd man in the rotation, Texas has never given up.
For the first time in three seasons, Texas seems poised to make a run down the stretch. If they get Hamilton and DeShields healthy, the Rangers could make a serious push into October. I’m sure media members everywhere will say they never thought this was possible six months ago, but the entire Rangers clubhouse will probably disagree. That confidence and that belief in one another is what makes this team so dangerous and loaded with potential.
When the season started, I scoffed at Banister’s motto of “Never Ever Quit.” I thought it was nothing more than a cliche, nothing more than a feel-good story to keep the fans happy. Six months later it appears as though he was serious, and it appears as though his team has bought in.