The Texas Rangers have played 39 games of their 162-game season. While 39 games is not a nice and clean round number, it is just as good a time as any to take a breath and review their performance to date. The Rangers are on the eve of the start of interleague play, having played every team in the AL for one series, never playing a team twice, and there is no AL team they haven’t played. So in that way, 39 games is perhaps the best time to do a miniature-sized season in review. This is the best five parts of the Rangers season that has led to their 24-15 record. For the worst five parts of the season, go here.
This is a lay-up answer. I’ll try to be more insightful later on, but for now there is no other place to start than with Hamilton. Josh Hamilton has been the best player in all of baseball to this point in the season. He leads all of baseball in home runs with 18 (next closest player has 13), OPS with a 1.278 mark, and in WAR (3.4 bWAR, 3.5 fWAR; next closest has 2.5 bWAR, 2.7 fWAR). Any way you slice it, Hamilton is the MVP of all of Major League Baseball in 2012, and certainly of the Texas Rangers. He has been a menace at the plate, an asset in the field, and most importantly he has stayed healthy.
2. Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish has been the pitcher that the Rangers have always wanted. In the offseason, the Rangers lost C.J. Wilson, who had started Opening Day and each game 1 in the 2011 playoffs. Wilson was the Rangers number one (which is different than being an Ace, but that’s a different conversation). When the Rangers made the move to sign Darvish, they were paying a hefty price for what appeared to be an unknown quantity. So far, the return on that investment has already been high enough that Darvish is flirting with being a legitimate Ace for the Rangers. Darvish is averaging 7.1 innings per start, pitching deep into games and giving the bullpen an opportunity for rest. Darvish has pitched every fifth day, and has displayed his competitive spirit time and time again, including when he came back from a two-hour rain delay to pitch an additional five strong innings of baseball. He is averaging 109 pitches per start, sixth-highest in all of baseball. While doing all of this, Darvish is striking out 10.0 batters per nine innings, fourth-best in baseball. His ERA is an excellent 2.60, and if you exclude his first ever MLB inning, that mark would drop to 1.94. His walk rate is still relatively high at 4.5 BB/9, but Darvish has shown he is not a nibbler that misses because he dances on the edge of the strike zone. He attacks hitters, and has improved his walk rate. In his last five starts, he is averaging 3.4 BB/9. Darvish is far ahead of the pack in the Rookie of the Year discussion, and is on the edge of consideration for the Cy Young award.
The Rangers bullpen has been stupid good. That’s a very simple answer, but it’s also very true. The 2.13 ERA produced by Rangers relievers is the best in all of baseball. In 101.1 IP, the Rangers bullpen has 97 strikeouts against just 16 walks. Opponents are hitting just .208 against the Rangers bullpen. Every reliever has an ERA at 3.00 or better. To emphasize the point, the Rangers mop-up men, Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara, would likely be the 8th-inning set-up men on many other teams.
The Rangers are still yet to make a move on their 25-man roster. No other team in baseball can claim that. At this time in 2011, the Rangers had already made 11 moves on their 25-man roster. So far this year, the only issues have been three games missed by Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre hobbling around the bases a bit with minor soreness in his hamstring. Nelson Cruz has not missed any time due to health issues, which is surprising considering he went on the 15-day DL in April 2010, May 2010, and May 2011. Manager Ron Washington is intentionally giving his players an opportunity for a day off at regular intervals, and that philosophy is paying dividends.
5. Road Warriors
The Rangers have won 13 out of 19 games on the road this year, trailing only Baltimore’s 13-5 road record. Their current seven games over .500 road record has already matched their 2011 performance (44-37), and bested their 2010 road record (39-42). The Rangers have typically thrived in the friendly confines of the Ballpark in Arlington, but this year they have proven their mettle away from home, despite two lengthy 9- and 10-game road trips.
There are a lot of positives to find with a team that has had one of the best records in baseball all season long. This is a team that has arguably the most complete roster, from top to bottom, and in some ways they still aren’t firing on all cylinders. Be sure to check out my “5 down” here to see where they could pick up some of the slack. It is certainly more challenging to find five negatives as opposed to five positives on a team that looks prepared to defend its AL Championship for another year.