The 2013 season has been full of frustration and surprise for my hometown team, the Texas Rangers. As a lifelong fan, I’ve witnessed the team ‘Most Likely to Choke’ transform into a machine running on all cylinders. With two World Series appearances in the last three years, the Rangers are sure to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy sooner or later, right? The team’s steady climb indicates the answer is yes, and I believe it could happen in 2013.
What’s Made the Difference?
Ron Washington, plain and simple. This past week, Washington passed Bobby Valentine to become the winningest coach in team history with a record 582 wins, and this is no accident. The Rangers franchise is no longer the one trick pony relying on a heavy dose of offense to win games 11-7 or 9-6. Washington has emphasized an across-the-board approach that includes offense, defense, pitching, and smart base running.
After all, it’s all about the fundamentals. Ron Washington knows that “small ball” can mean the difference between a win and a loss. Home runs may be exciting for fans, but baseball is about much more than fireworks. During Washington’s tenure, we’ve seen an uptick in sacrifice bunts and flies, steals and double steals, even the suicide squeeze. Scoring runs can be as much about timing as power, and every player coached by Ron Washington understands the importance of his across-the-board approach to scoring and winning games.
Washington’s happy-go-lucky, can-do attitude has ushered in an era of improved team camaraderie second to no team in baseball. The players are having fun playing the game, and that contributes to team success more often than not.
Why Is This Year Different?
If every team under Ron Washington plays the game the right way, why will this team win it when those in the past have tried and failed? The Texas Rangers have glimpsed World Series glory twice, and both times they’ve let it slide past. On paper, this year’s lineup is pretty average, hitting a forgettable .260 as a team. In 2010 and 2011, the years with World Series appearances, the Rangers averaged an exceptional .285 collectively. We know, though, that baseball games aren’t played out on paper, and that’s where this year’s team comes into play.
After a quick look at this year’s starting pitching, it doesn’t take long to realize that the Rangers don’t have to hit quite as well for a win in 2013. With Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez, and recent acquisition Matt Garza, Texas sports a collective 3.67 ERA. Compare that to an average 3.86 ERA over the two years with World Series appearances. As the rotation has slowly solidified, the pitching has improved dramatically, lessening the load on a less explosive offense.
With the loss of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Michael Young, this year’s lineup has seen its fair share of adjustments and day-to-day fill-ins. Injuries have kept Mitch Moreland, Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman, and Ian Kinsler out for extended periods of time. Even the pitching staff has been riddled with long-term injuries. Midseason 2012, not many Rangers fans or baseball analysts would have imagined a team seemingly so strung out, yet the Rangers are still a threat to win the American League West having won 14 of their last 15 games against division rivals. With this week’s news that Nelson Cruz has been suspended for 50 games, the Rangers will once again have to find a replacement spark.
This team has battled through injury after injury, but the lineup is finally starting to come together and the timing couldn’t be better. With 70 games left to play, the Rangers are only two games back in the AL West and have won 7 of their last 8. The Texas Rangers have become the team to watch in Major League Baseball, and I wouldn’t count them out in 2013.