Whoever said my music selections weren’t lazy clearly wasn’t paying attention
Texas Rangers: 2016 American League West Champions.
On the mystical quest to a first ever World Series win, my favorite baseball team has crossed off the first goal of the journey. By obtaining the AL West crown the Rangers have assured themselves a spot in a best-of-five division series, where they will likely play either the Blue Jays, Tigers or Orioles.
This is Texas’s 2nd consecutive West title, their 4th since 2010, and the 5th time they have made the postseason outright in the same span. The two — non-postseason — years in that span were 2013, where they played a one-game playoff against Tampa Bay (a loss) for the right to play Cleveland in the Wild Card game. The other, 2014, was the retooling year when seemingly everyone was injured and they only won 67 games. In short, the Rangers have played more than 162 games 6 times in the last 7 years. Crazy.
With a little luck on the last day of the 2012 regular season, this would be the 5th time in 7 years the Rangers won its division — an unprecedented run of success for the franchise. If wins are the most precious commodity in baseball, then Texas has been the standard-bearer of the AL West during the 2010’s decade, and it hasn’t been close.
AL West wins since 2010:
1 Texas, 615 2 LAA, 573 (-6 wins/year) 3 Oakland, 567 (-6.9 wins/year) 4 Seattle, 517 (-14 wins/year) 5 Houston*, 475 (-20 wins/year)
To be clear, over the last 7 years the Rangers have averaged being 6 games better than the Angels, their closest divisional competition.
*In fairness to the Astros, they didn’t join the American League West until the 2013 season.
The Rangers hovered a few games above .500 through April and the better part of May. Until that point the Mariners had a small but consistent lead on the West, though when Texas finally got hot they never really looked back.
Following a 22-19 start, the Rangers would go on to win 29 of their next 37 games (good for a .784 winning percentage), vaulting them to 51-27 with a commanding 8.5-game lead in the West. Looking back in retrospect, that stretch of the season basically won them the division.
As it were, the cushion in the standings took the pressure off of rushing Yu Darvish — Texas’s ace in the hole — back into action after missing more than a year with elbow surgery. He made a few starts at the beginning of June before getting shut down for a month, which was around the time the Rangers began slumping.
Call it regression to the mean or call it laziness, or getting comfortable. After starting 51-27 the Rangers lost 15 of their next 19 games, a stretch that ultimately ended on July 22nd, just a week and change from the trade deadline. Their 8.5-game lead in the West had all but evaporated, hanging by a 2.5-game thread over the Astros.
Then something weird happened. They started winning again. It turned out that the Rangers weren’t going to play out the remainder of the season with a .250 winning percentage. It also turned out, big fucking shocker, that Houston couldn’t sustain a .700 winning percentage.
On August 1st, trade deadline day, the Rangers acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers and DH/OF Carlos Beltran from the Yankees. While the cost to obtain these immediate helpers was substantial — particularly in Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz’s cases — Lucroy and Beltran have each been crucial to lengthening Texas’s lineup.
So far Lucroy has slashed .277/.352/.546 (134 wRC+) with 10 homers in 145 plate appearances, while Beltran has provided a .290/.333/.462 (108 wRC+) line with 6 HRs in 180 PAs.
With the division lead fluctuating between 5.5 and 8.5 games for the majority of August and September, the fate of the West never seemed in serious doubt. As we got deeper into the season, and as an ALDS berth became more of a reality, the focus — along with still winning games, of course — was to keep the World Series pieces healthy.
I’m talking about Yu Darvish (3.53 ERA, 120/30 K/UIBB in 94.1 IP), and Cole Hamels (3.30 ERA, 194/76 K/UIBB in 193.2 IP), specifically. But I’ll get into them with more detail before the playoffs start.
The last real domino to fall, at least with serious playoff implications, was the addition of cast-off and former star outfielder Carlos Gomez. I wrote about the acquisition when it happened, said:
This isn’t really a gamble on the Rangers end, because if he can’t hack it down the stretch Texas still has options to replace him with. But if he proves that he’s even a shred of his former self over the last 35 or so games of the regular season, the Rangers could very well have struck gold here.
Heading into Friday: 26 games, .261/.352/.500 (126 wRC+) with 6 HRs in 105 plate appearances. It was a solid pickup.
The Rangers head into the postseason with the most complete, healthy team they have had all year. That doesn’t guarantee them anything extra when they are in the dance, but teams can’t ask for much more at this state of the season.
Adrian Beltre: .298/.357/.517 (129 wRC+), 31 HRs, +5.5 fWAR, +5.8 bWAR
Adrian is the real MVP. Or at least the MVP of the Texas Rangers. Since signing with Texas in 2011 Beltre has generated +5.5, +6.5, +5.0, +5.8, +4.8, and +5.5 WAR according to FanGraphs. That’s 33.3 fWAR in 6 years. He’s 37 right now. That’s amazing.
Ian Desmond: .287/.338/.454 (108 wRC+), 22 HRs, +3.5 fWAR, +2.8 bWAR
It’s too bad Desmond has sucked so badly in the second half (.238/.286/.359, 68 wRC+), because he was on pace for a six- or seven-win season at one point. At the All Star Break Ian was hitting .322/.375/.524, 137 wRC+) and was one of the most productive all-around players in baseball. He was a large part to why the Rangers won so many games earlier on.
Rougned Odor: .276/.301/.505 (108 wRC+), 31 HRs, +2.2 fWAR, +2.5 bWAR
I’m so conflicted about Rougie. On the one hand he improved in 2016, and he’s still just 22 years old. On the other his on-base percentage is .301, and that doesn’t cut it. While I reserve the right to change my mind, at the moment I hold steadfast that Odor is insanely talented and mildly overrated at the same time.
Tentative postseason expectations
The Rangers are in somewhat of a unique position compared to recent playoff years. In 2010 they were the new kid of the block; no one could have expected them to advance to the World Series, even though when they got there they were the favorites to beat the Giants.
In 2011 they had the best roster in MLB. It was no accident when they made the World Series again, thought they eventually lost for a second year in a row. 2012 was similar in terms of roster strength and expectations, as the Rangers led the AL West literally from the first game of the regular season to the penultimate day of the regular season. They would cede the division to Oakland on the last game of the year, and lost to Joe Saunders and the Orioles in the Wild Card game.
2015 was like 2010 in that Texas was the underdog heading into the playoffs. After taking Game One and Two against the Blue Jays in the ALDS, Toronto would take the next three and advance to the ALCS while Texas entered the offseason with a bitter taste in their mouth.
What makes 2016 unique is the Rangers are not as talented as they were in 2010, 2011, or 2012, yet the expectation to win it all may have never been higher, or more important.
Five or six years ago we wanted the World Series as much as any other franchise that’s never won one, but as a silver lining there was always the thought that, okay, even in the worst case scenario — where we don’t win — the Rangers still have a helluva club coming back the following year.
I can’t say that this year, because I don’t know about next year. Adrian Beltre will be a year older, Ian Desmond and Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez will all be free agents and there’s a good chance at least one, but probably two, of those guys are in different uniforms in 2017.
We’re also talking about tangible decline from Cole Hamels, perhaps a DH-only version of Shin-Soo Choo, and swapping Mitch Moreland at 1B with the unproven bang-or-bust prospect Joey Gallo.
There are so many variables at this point, making the present moment the best time to capitalize. If the Rangers were a long-shot to win 90-plus game this year (their preseason over/under in wins according to Vegas was 83.5), they will almost certainly be even more of a long-shot next year.
I should probably enjoy this division title more than I am, and probably think less about the prospects of the club in 2017 and 2018. But that’s just the way I’m wired, I presume.
There’s this fine line I’m attempting to tippy-toe, where I’m happy but not at all surprised the Rangers won the West this year, where I’m confident the club will play well in the playoffs; on the other side of the paradigm I know specifically as a fan of the Rangers just how much further they have to go. Winning the division is a big piece of the puzzle, but all it assures Texas is a one-in-eight chance (12.5%) to win the whole fucking thing.
That’s three series wins against three good baseball teams. It ain’t easy.
And I think to myself, holy shit: The Rangers are having one of the two- or three-best seasons in the 20 years I’ve been a fan, and in like two weeks it may all have to end with nothing but a postseason appearance to show for it. I’ll always be happy winning the division, but Texas isn’t in the business of winning the West. They are in the business of winning the World Series.