The Texas Rangers are 13-3 after three and a half weeks of baseball and looking like a World Series contender if there ever was one. Heck, they’d already be the top seed in the league if this was the NFL. Yep, the Rangers have the best record in baseball and are on a faster pace than either of the past two seasons, both of which Texas represented the American League in the World Series. However, their record isn’t the only reason the Rangers are a better team this year.
Texas was 7-9 at this point in 2010 and 11-5 in 2011, so the Rangers have improved by at least two games in the first three weeks of baseball over the past two seasons and the current one. However, Texas lost its ace in each of the past two, so how is that possible?
Teamwork is the answer. Indeed, the Rangers became a different team when Cliff Lee was traded to Texas and they rode his left arm to the franchise’s first World Series appearance. However, Texas was pummeled by the San Francisco Giants in the Fall Classic and Lee departed for Philadelphia in the ensuing off-season.
In 2011, C.J. Wilson took over as the Rangers’ ace and turned in a solid season without having Lee around, pitching 223.1 innings and winning 16 of 23 decided games while striking out 206 batters. All of those numbers were career-highs for Wilson and he wasn’t bad in the World Series, pitching a total of 11 innings while allowing 8 hits and 4 earned runs, walking 9 and striking out 7. Wilson was credited with a Rangers loss in Game 1 of the Fall Classic, but Texas won Game 5 with him starting on the hill.
Then like Lee the year before, Wilson bolted for “home” in the off-season, albeit the opposite direction from his predecessor. Wilson isn’t to be ridiculed like LeBron James for it, either; he grew up in southern California and played his high school and college ball there, so that literally is home to him. However, one would think the team with which he had spent seven years and been to two consecutive World Series would be where he wanted to stay, but that wasn’t the case.
Still, life went on in Texas without Lee and Wilson and the Rangers are proving they’re no dependent team this season. The Rangers’ five starting pitchers have a combined ERA of 2.61 through 16 games and only have one loss between them. There are two new faces in the rotation in Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz and Texas has a new closer in Joe Nathan, but that seems to have made the team stronger instead of weaker.
Matt Harrison is leading the starters with a 1.66 ERA, up from his 3.39 for the entire 2011 season. The team knew Harrison would have to step up in 2012 for Texas to have a shot at a third consecutive World Series trip and he’s heeded the call thus far. Darvish has been much better than many expected and seems to improve with every start while Feliz has made the team’s decision to move him into the rotation from his previous closing role look like the most brilliant move in baseball.
In short, the Rangers aren’t relying on any one or two players anymore; Texas is playing as a team and each player is carrying his weight, which is what championship teams do. If the Rangers win the World Series in 2012, no one should be surprised.