Friday night, the Rangers weathered a perfect game into the 7th inning from Kendall Graveman to beat the Oakland A’s 3-0 and become the first American League team to clinch its division.
This is pretty surprising, actually, as the Houston Astros were expected to be in the hunt for the entire season, if not win the AL West themselves. In fact, it’s the Seattle Mariners that sit in second place– around 10 games behind the Rangers.
So how did the Rangers run away with this division so convincingly? More importantly, how do they stack up against the other likely playoff teams in the AL? Let’s take a look.
The first thing that jumps out at you when looking at the Rangers is just how incredibly deep their lineup is. In the outfield, they have rookie sensation Nomar Mazara in right. Mazara has 20 home runs, 64 RBIs and a .275 batting average and, though he has been completly overshadowed by Michael Fulmer of Detroit, and to a much greater degree Gary Sanchez of the Yankees, Mazara is my pick for AL Rookie of the Year. Just look at those numbers.
In center, Texas has shortstop-turned-centerfielder Ian Desmond, who got off to a really hot start and, while he has cooled off a bit down the stretch, still sports a .287 average to go along with 22 bombs, 20 steals, and 84 RBIs– good for a 2.8 bWAR and well worth the $8 million the Rangers gave him at the end of the off season.
In the infield, the Rangers have future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre at third, turning in another typically monstrous offensive season. His 31 homers, 100 RBIs and a nearly .300 average, amount to a 5.9 bWAR and a 129 wRC+ from the hot corner. Texas also has $120 million man Elvis Andrus at short. Andrus never really lived up to the hype on offense, but is a defensive machine and his .297 average is a career high.
But neither of those guys is the best bat in the infield, or even the lineup. That distinction goes to Rougned Odor, an MVP contender at second base with 31 homers, an .801 OPS, 85 RBI, and 14 steals, all career highs for the second year man. Buster Olney once called Odor, who is in talks with Texas on an extension and is only 22 years old, a possible future Hall of Fame guy. At this rate, Rougned is making Buster look pretty smart.
You might have noticed that I left out a few positions when running through the Rangers’ lineup. That’s because the real story of this season for Texas has been the guys they added along the way.
The Rangers had a pretty comfortable 6 game division lead on July 31 and they were second in the AL in record, but the Astros were charging hard and the lineup was a little top heavy. Instead of standing pat, Rangers GM Jon Daniels went out and got the best catcher available and the best pure hitter. Later, towards the end of August, Daniels added Carlos Gomez to the mix in the outfield as well.
Jon Lucroy and Carlos Beltran have made the Rangers lineup a monster. Beltran DH’s and typically hits third; Lucroy, the catcher, has been hitting 6th, and together they give the Rangers a solid 1-9 in the order. Mitch Moreland isn’t what you’d hope for at first base, but while batting 8th in a stacked lineup he’s just what you need.
Lucroy has hit 10 bombs and batted .278 since coming to Texas and Beltran has 49 hits in 46 games in Texas. These are really big additions that turned Texas from a team with a few sluggers into a team that will wear pitchers down come October.
All of this, and I’ve left out the 10th guy: former top prospect Jurickson Profar. Profar is a utility infielder at this point but he’s played in 85 games all over the diamond and has been a really serviceable backup. The Rangers are really deep on offense.
Pitching is where a few questions persist. The Rangers definitely have 2 top flight starters in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Hamels is having another superb season, closing in on 200 innings with a 3.30 ERA and he’d certainly be my pick to start game one of the ALDS.
Darvish, who’s arguably better, is coming off of Tommy John surgery that cost him last season. He’s made just 15 starts because of it but has pitched well. Darvish has a 3.81 ERA and a 3.47 FIP. You’ve got to trust him in game 2 because he’s your franchise guy, but Darvish is still working his way back, and while he will be much closer to his old powers next season, he’ll need to pitch very smartly to have a lot of success this fall.
Behind them there are real questions. Colby Lewis, who has had some postseason success, AJ Griffin, Martin Perez, and Derek Holland round out the rotation, and while each has had some good stretches this season, none are really guys you’d throw out there in the playoffs if you didn’t have to.
Of course, Texas averages 4.77 runs per game so they are hoping to be able to give their starters some breathing room. Moreover, the Rangers are 36-11 in one run games this season and lead the MLB with 47 come from behind wins.
They’ll need to hit well late in games as their bullpen has been an adventure all season. It was horrendous early and has done a better job of late, but this isn’t exactly the crew the Royals used to win the last 2 AL pennants.
Texas is going to have to hit to win in October, but all signs point to them being able to do just that.