It was easy to look at the Texas Rangers before the season started and wonder if their glory days were already behind them. They were stunned in the wild card playoff by Baltimore last year, and the departure of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli looked to weaken their lineup considerably.
Age was certainly becoming a factor. Too many of their key players were on the wrong side of 30 and the team's answer to the loss of Hamilton was the signing of 37-year-old Lance Berkman.
But the Angels haven't gelled. Josh Hamilton is struggling away from hitter friendly Arlington batting just .216 for the Halos, Albert Pujols has been hobbled by plantar fasciitis, and Mike Trout, while still great, has only looked human through the first third of the season.
That's opened the door for the Rangers to come out strong and build a fairly significant lead over the the rest of what looks to be a .500 division. And while the Rangers certainly are a feel-good story, they are being greatly helped by the ineptitude of division. In terms of team ERA the Rangers rank seventh in baseball at just under 3.5 runs per game, but no one else in the division ranks in the top half; the closest, Seattle, gives up almost four runs per game.
Hitting is a bit closer. The Rangers have scored the fifth-most runs in baseball, behind Detroit, Colorado, Boston and Baltimore, but the competition is here. The A's have scored just five fewer runs (and rank ninth) and the Angels have scored 22 fewer (and rank 12th). That's something that could turn around quick if Hamilton finds his stroke and as Pujols heals.
But while the Angels and their fans are waiting for that to happen the Rangers are playing good baseball, finding themselves in just about every game and winning with regularity. Signing Berkman paid off well --.311, three home runs, 25 RBIs. Adrian Beltre is still proving himself to be one of the best offensive third sackers in the game, Nelson Cruz is raking and the younger players, Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin, and now Jurickson Profar, all look to be good players who are only going to get better.
The team features three good starters -- well two good ones in Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland both of whom have ERAs under 3.30 and one great one in Yu Darvish who has to be in any conversation about the best pitchers in baseball. Additionally Nick Tepesch has pitched well, but is still a bit of a mystery commodity.
Right now the Rangers are doing what good teams do. They are winning games now and not worrying about what may happen down the road. If the Angels or A's want to beat them they'll have to do it the hard way: by coming back from a position much lower in the standings. Until then the only team the Rangers really need to worry about is themselves.
And the scary thing is that they too might not yet be playing the best baseball of their season.
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