There was a point in the offseason when the Texas Rangers were a classic well-maybe team. They had the ace. They had traded for a mid-rotation starter. They had prospects and young players sprinkled around the lineup. It wasn’t a top-tier rotation, and it wasn’t close to a perfect roster, but they had enough to make you think, “Well, maybe …”
Then Jurickson Profar was lost for the year, which was the first meteor from the heavens. Derek Holland went on the disabled list shortly after that. Somewhere in the middle, Yu Darvish broke, and the Rangers became, yet again, an open pool of festering sadness. The pool was fenced off, and your kids asked you uncomfortable questions when you drove by. “Weren’t the Rangers the best team in baseball a little while ago?” Your evasive answers only made things more mysterious for them, and you were scared they were going to climb the fence one day and dive in. Then they would be covered with the Rangers’ sadness. That stuff doesn’t just wash off, you know.
It was the Darvish injury that made me not want to write about them for a good, solid year. Even if a team is lousy, at least let them keep their existing superstars. At least let Phillies fans enjoy Cole Hamels every fifth day, or follow the prospects they can get for him. At least let Rockies fans marvel at Nolan Arenado. At least let Rangers fans enjoy the artistry and magic of Yu Darvish. And, verily, the baseball gods said “no” to Rangers fans and broke a window as they left.
That’s the story of how the Rangers, once again, became baseball’s saddest rotten-luck team. I’m sorry you had to read it.
The Rangers are a game away from the second Wild Card spot.
Well, I’ll be damned. How in the …
The how is the easy part. Prince Fielder is in the middle of a renaissance. Rougned Odor (I) is becoming the star that Profar and Elvis Andrus haven’t blossomed into yet. Mitch Moreland has taken the team’s inexplicable patience with him and made it explicable. Yovani Gallardo is having one of the best seasons of his career. Adrian Beltre shook off some early season nastiness, and he’s been his old self for the last two months. Delino DeShields has been a Rule 5 revelation, and Shin-Soo Choo is giving them a little value, even.
Every time I eyeball their pitching staff, I have no idea how they aren’t on pace to lose 90 games, but now they have Cole Hamels and Gallardo, with Martin Perez back and Derek Holland returning shortly. That’s not bad. That’s not bad at all.
Which all brings us to the meaning of the 2015 Rangers: They are your Rorschach test for how you feel about the second Wild Card. Here it is, a perfect team to take a stand on. Let this be a window into your soul.
The Rangers are three games away from the top of the AL West.
The Rangers have been more than a touch fortunate, which explains the disconnect between their record and the perception of their pitching staff. They’ve been outscored on the season, and they’re a few games ahead of where they should be according to BaseRuns, which estimates the runs they should have scored and allowed. They don’t have to give those wins back now that the pitching is taking shape, but it’s worth pointing out that the Rangers’ relative success is a touch anomalous and irregular.
If the fancy stats and Pythagorean theorems aren’t your thing, just look at them. Look at the Rangers’ roster and marvel that they’re still here. Here are the Rangers’ most-used starting pitchers this season, ranked in order of starts:
Yovani Gallardo, 25 starts
Colby Lewis, 24
Nick Martinez, 21
Wandy Rodriguez, 15
Chi Chi Gonzalez, 8
That list says so much, even before you check in with how the pitchers have actually performed. It’s like an intern forgot to place an order for the top three pitchers of the rotation. The stopgaps start with Lewis, and after Gallardo everyone pitched about as effectively as you might have guessed, which is to say not very. Gonzalez is still young and laden with promise, but he’s also walked more batters than he’s struck out. The rest of the top three shouldn’t be near a team with postseason hopes, and they almost certainly won’t be a part of the next great Rangers team.
The rotation is trending up now, though. They were lucky back then, but they need less luck now. Hamels has been erratic for three starts while dealing with a groin injury, but he’s still an excellent pitcher. Holland is an enigma, but his strong finish to 2014 was one of the reasons the Rangers were a well-maybe team in the first place. Perez is pitching like a young pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, which is what he is, but he’s had moments of brilliance.
And it’s all leading to a chance for a Rangers team — a bedraggled, cursed Rangers team that was sick with radiation poisoning and standing under a cloud dropping acid rain — to do what those loaded superstar Rangers teams couldn’t. You say that even if the Rangers squeak into the postseason, they’ll have no chance. I say that you should take this here pamphlet from the Church of Jeff Weaver and re-examine what it takes for a team to go 11-8. It takes a little talent and a little luck.
That’s exactly the combination that has the Rangers where they absolutely have no right to be. This was a team caught in the machinery of baseball, with gears remorselessly tearing through labrums and tendons. Rangers fans had about one reason to watch the team this season, and his elbow exploded before Opening Day. Here they are, though. One game away from the postseason. Three games away from winning the division.
When the Rangers dealt for Hamels, it looked like a move for 2016, a trade to get an affordable ace to pair with the returning Darvish, supported by the burgeoning young hitters like Joey Gallo and Odor. Instead, they’ve become the biggest surprise team in a season filled with surprise teams. Astros fans, A’s fans, Angels fans, Mariners fans … we understand if you don’t want to root for them. Divisional rivalries aren’t sweaters to take on and off when you feel like it.
The rest of us, though, should probably hold a sliver of hope for the Rangers. This is the hope the Rangers fans should have had in August of 2013, but it was boxed up and stuck in the back of the freezer. We can point fingers later, but right now, the Rangers are the feel-good team of baseball. If there’s a team and a fan base that’s deserved a season like this more over the last few years, I haven’t found them.
Well, maybe the A’s. And possibly the Mariners. You know, the Rays haven’t had the best time of things lately, and the Indians sure are snakebit in a few different ways. Did you see what the Astros have been through lately? The White Sox could probably use some good luck, and we haven’t even taken a spin through the National League yet.
Okay, fine, don’t nitpick. The Rangers’ fall was sudden and violent, though, and it’s hard not to root for a team in their situation. Baseball is a dadaist poem, and we spend our time trying to analyze it like it’s a recipe for beef stew. Let the 2015 Rangers be your proof that nothing will ever make sense again, and that’s probably for the better.
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