MLB: Texas Rangers Quietly Dominating the AL West

MLB: Texas Rangers Quietly Dominating the AL West
Mitch Moreland celebrates with Rougned Odor at Coliseum on June 13, 2016. | Robert Reiners/Getty Images

Imagine if we approached you before the 2016 season and gave you these hypotheticals about where the Texas Rangers would be in mid-June: Prince Fielder would have five home runs; Shawn Tolleson would have an 8.41 ERA and four blown saves; Yu Darvish would be on the disabled list after three starts; Rougned Odor would be banned seven games for bashing Jose Bautista’s face; and Ian Desmond would be the club’s WAR leader.

Where would you have projected the team’s place in the AL West? If not last, most would have placed the club in fourth place. Instead, despite the above nightmares coming true, we have had the Rangers quietly dominating a tough division and leading the American League in wins.

The stronger-than-expected rotation, exceptional defense, and organizational depth have allowed the Texas Rangers to brush off the Mariners’ run and grab control of the West after a 10-10 start. We use the word “quietly” because the steady Rangers have not been as sexy a story as the dramatic fall of Dallas Keuchel and the Astros; nor have they been able to out-eyeball the return of Robinson Cano and the rejuvenated Mariners before that team hit a rough patch in June.

The thing is, the Texas Rangers have been the primary reason those clubs never found extended grooves of their own. Against Houston, the Rangers are 9-1, with six of those seven coming during the Astros’ “hot streak.” Against Seattle, the Rangers are 8-4, including a bullying 5-1 in June. Any chances those teams had, Texas swatted down the possibility of a threat while playing shorthanded most of the year.

MLB: Texas Rangers Quietly Dominating the AL West
Cole Hamels has been the ace the Rangers lacked in 2015. | Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

There has been a great deal of overachieving among both position players and members of the pitching staff. We may as well start with the rotation, where Colby Lewis has jumped out to a 5-0 record (3.00 ERA in 13 GS) and is the staff WAR leader. Martin Perez (5-4, 3.22 ERA) and Cole Hamels (6-1, 3.14 ERA) have not lagged far behind Lewis. Even A.J. Griffin (3-0, 2.94 ERA) was exceptional before heading to the DL in the first week of May.

If you check the fielding independent pitching (FIP) of each of the pitchers above, you can see a driving force behind their success. Each one has an FIP that is significantly higher than their ERA, and there is no secret to how that happens: extraordinary defense.

Among 30 MLB teams, only Cubs pitchers have benefited more from their fielders’ glove work. The rock-solid Rangers defense, anchored by Adrian Beltre, has been the best in the AL since the start of the season.

Ian Desmond, who joined the team late and was considered an afterthought by many, has proven to be highly valuable in the outfield and is carrying a .933 OPS (.303, 9 HR, 42 RBI) into mid-June. Suffice to say Desmond’s contract (one year, $8 million)  has been the savviest signing of the offseason, with that of Lewis (one year, $6 million) not far behind.

The front office has been as title-worthy as the club on the field in 2016. Yet there is no contender in Arlington without the offense to thump with visiting teams. The Texas Rangers managed to keep up the pace with limited contributions from Fielder (.199, 5 HR, .589 OPS) and Mitch Moreland (.227, 10 HR, .729 OPS). Credit the youth movement here.

MLB: Texas Rangers Quietly Dominating the AL West
Nomar Mazara hits an RBI single against the Houston Astros on June 9, 2016. | Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

Rougned Odor, when not slugging stars around the league, has put up solid power numbers (10 HR, 13 2B, 30 RBI) in his age-24 season. But the breakout year from rookie Nomar Mazara (.315, 10 HR, .842 OPS) has been the jolt this offense needed with its sluggers in prolonged slumps — and he just turned 21.

There has been almost no letup for Mazara since his April 10 debut, and his monster home run on May 25 put the entire league on notice. (Statcast called it the longest home run of 2016, though Hit Tracker disputes this claim, giving the title to Giancarlo Stanton.)

Jurickson Profar, still only 23, has been yet another force (.343, 6 XBH, .884 OPS in 17 G) filling in around the diamond after his call-up in late May. And we would be remiss to ignore the exquisite bullpen work of Sam Dyson (2.27 ERA, 10 SV), who took over the closer role, and Jake Diekman (1.46 in 30 G), a key piece late in the game for this club.

There is one team every year that has its mojo working and gets players to step up when others struggle or fall to injury. The Texas Rangers are that club so far in 2016. Manager Jeff Banister called it being “greater than the sum of [the team’s] parts” to SportsDay Dallas, and that assessment is tough to argue.

Hamels mentioned the light mood in the clubhouse, and Elvis Andrus cited the overall confidence players have in themselves. This team was one the computers forgot in their projection models. We remember the last time a club had both tangibles and intangibles working on this level. It was the 2015 Royals that won the World Series.

Originally published June 14, 2016.

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