ANAHEIM, Calif. – For a recently (and briefly) bankrupt franchise whose iconic CEO has been threatening to quit, for an organization whose manager once tested positive for a controlled substance, for a team that two and three seasons ago played to the final moments of October only to lose, for a club that gave away a division title in September and whose winter reputedly was borderline catastrophic, the Texas Rangers are, as usual, quite composed and, again, pretty capable.
Off a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners and through a methodical three weeks (they've yet to lose two in a row), the Rangers opened a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night as the American League's undead. That is, you can't kill them, you can only make them more resolute.
In a division that was to be – and certainly still may be – about the fresh-faced Oakland A's and reloaded Angels, the Rangers moved into late April at 12-6, tied for the best record in the AL, pitching better than anyone in the AL, and while dragging behind them a burdensome disabled list.
Stuff does seem to happen to the Rangers, a franchise suddenly as resilient as it once was flimsy. They win through ownership turmoil, they thrive through late October disappointment, they pick up and carry on after losing a four-game lead in the AL West with six to play, and they go to the World Series in spite of a spat between their longest-tenured player – Michael Young – and, well, whoever was handling what happened then …
"Me," Jon Daniels said.
Through the kinds of outcomes and incidents that might knock a lesser franchise from its center, the Rangers seemingly can be relied upon for 90-some wins, and two or three more big young arms, and a clever trade or two, and a competitive payroll, and a reasonably full ballpark. The farm system is healthy. The big club is competent. The front office is smart and aggressive. Enough so, I'd say, that if Nolan Ryan really wanted to leave the Rangers, he'd be the one lesser for it.
Take, for instance, some of the areas in which the Rangers recently have invested long-term – 24-year-old Elvis Andrus (eight years, $120 million), 26-year-old Yu Darvish (six years, $56 million) and 27-year-old Matt Harrison (five years, $55 million). By contrast, the Angels, for one, have spent on Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson, all quality players who've also burned off some of their prime years.
Over an offseason in which they targeted the likes of Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Justin Upton and James Shields and got none of them, the Rangers huffed, signed a couple stopgaps in Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski, reworked their bullpen with system pitchers, traded Young, then knocked out 12 wins in 18 games. While we're a good few months from knowing if this will hold up, if nothing else Daniels, the franchise's president, has bought himself time while Colby Lewis, Martin Perez, Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria heal, and while waiting on the trading deadline, and while waiting for the bats of Andrus, Adrian Beltre, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland to liven up.
As an organization, the Rangers wait long enough to be relevant. Apparently, a few injuries, a few uncomfortable moments, a few winter disappointments and one horrendous series in Oakland won't be enough to knock them clear of that.
A few hours before the first pitch Monday night, Daniels sat in the Rangers' dugout and explained.
"At the core," he said, "we've got a foundation. We have a lot of good people, on and off the field. We believe in everyone. There's a confidence level that we're going to figure it out, we're going to get it done.
"There's not a lot flashy about what we do. We work. We stick with each other. We try to make good decisions. We've made some bad ones. But more good than bad."
No one expected the Rangers to go away. But, when they didn't go big over the winter, and even stayed out of overpaying in the middle class, and when the injuries came, and when everyone had to get past that whole late-September thing, the chance for a slow start seemed real enough. Until it was time to play again.
"It's something that we've talked about for a long time," said Murphy, who arrived in Texas around the time the Rangers were finding themselves as a franchise. "One, it says we're a talented franchise. No. 2, it says a lot about the character of the players and the chemistry amongst the team. I never realized how much chemistry was an element in winning until I played on those World Series teams."
Only good teams get to experience the kinds of disappointment the Rangers have. Only good teams lose – twice in two years – in the World Series. Only good teams lead their division by so much with a week to play. And, then, only good teams experience so many weird little distractions and keep at it.
It'll be a long summer. The A's and the Angels almost surely will have their moments. And, you know, so will the Rangers.
It's who they are. Who they've become.
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