Abnormal Consistency

Without Cliff Lee the Texas Rangers will just be an "average team" this year. Those were the words of Lance Berkman after he refused to go to the Texas Rangers this off-season and instead took his talents to play second-fiddle with everyone else in St. Louis to Albert Pujols and the Cardinals. Anyone around the league would say that the Texas Rangers are anything but average. Everything about them is so far from the norm actually that the comments from Berkman are ironic and seemingly comical. What caps off the irony in Berkman's statement is that the "average team" (and also back-to-back American League Champions) will be playing his Cardinals in the World Series.

The Texas Rangers certainly have a unique style to them. Maybe it is because their manager wears his emotions on his sleeve, or because a former owner (oh, and former president too) sits front row at the Ballpark and graciously shakes hands with anyone who comes up to him, or it's possibly because where all these players were a few years ago and where they are now. However you try to decipher the Texas Rangers, one thing you can be sure of is that their style is very unique. I challenge you to find another manager who has his own montage of celebrations mid-game like Ron Washington did in the decisive game 6 victory the Rangers had over the Tigers. He keeps his players so loose that it makes you remember how fun playing the sport and being a part of a team that is something special really is. As fans, we question if players really play for the love of the game, or if they go out there because that is really what they enjoy doing. There is no question that the Texas Rangers' players love playing baseball. Each year the players seem to have a new hand-signal that they come up with to celebrate one another when they make a good play. Last year we saw the claw and antlers and this year we now have some elbow-duck thing. Whatever the signal may be, this Ranger team is loose and playing really good baseball as the calendar approaches late October and most other teams are sitting at home, and certain players are back on their ranches in Arkansas watching their former team go to the World Series…again. (Ahem, Cliff Lee)

Oh that's right. Berkman's remark to the Rangers being average this year was derived from the fact that Lee would not be a part of the Rangers' starting rotation this year. Now, I'll be honest here, I didn't know what to expect from the Rangers' starting rotation without Lee, but as loose as this Rangers team is, it doesn't surprise me how resilient they were/are about things. It’s nice when you have a rotation that goes 5 deep and each player has 13 or more wins. It’s not just about the starting pitching though, as we have seen both in the ALDS and ALCS thus far, it is also about the bullpen. Okay, while I'm being honest, I never thought the Rangers' bullpen would turn around. Bringing in relievers for the Rangers used to be like letting Tony Romo throw in the 4th quarter. (Too soon? I don't think so) It just wasn't a unit you could trust. Slowly but surely though, John Daniels and Nolan Ryan were able to turn the bullpen around to one of the best in the league. In fact, the Rangers' bullpen is responsible for all but one of the wins so far this post-season. Aside from the Koji Uehera trade, the Rangers seemed to be making out well with their trade deadline bullpen acquisitions. Granted, Mike Adams has also been streaky at times, but more productive than Uehera. Also, Ogando is a dominating force in the bullpen right now and so is Scott Feldman. Both were former starters who have been responsible for more wins than any of the starters this post-season.

The Rangers' MVP this year was supposed to be traded at the beginning of the year. Last year's A.L. MVP is never at full-strength. Their best off-season acquisition has hamstring problems. Their #1 starter was a closer a few years ago. Their closer wants to be a starter in the coming years. The Texas Rangers had to fight through plenty of adversity this year, and listed above are just a few examples. Despite the trade talks that surrounded Michael Young before the season began, he went on to hit .338 which tied him for 2nd in the A.L. in batting average. Josh Hamilton had a collarbone injury earlier in the year, and described his health at “50 percent” as recently as after the Rangers’ game 6 victory over the Tigers. Adrian Beltre has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury for months now, but continues to play through it. (Illustrated by some awkward slides and running form most recently in game 6 vs. Detroit) C.J. Wilson won 16 games this year and made his first all-star game appearance. Not bad for a guy who was a closer just a few years ago to now carry the load at the top spot of the Rangers’ rotation. Neftali Feliz continues to be one of the best closers in the league, even though at the beginning of the year there were mumblings that he wanted to be a starter. This might divide some clubhouses, but not the Texas Rangers. Feliz has been pitching so well and the “controversy” hasn’t been mentioned in so long you can barely call it a controversy but merely just a discussion.

The Rangers are an easy team to love and to root for. I’ll even dare to say that they remind me a little bit of the Dallas Mavericks. The comparison is simple. Both the Mavericks and Rangers have their pictures in the dictionary next to the word team. Sure, Nowitzki was the main guy, but he couldn’t do it without everyone else in the line-up. I guess you could say Nowitzki was kind of like the cleanup hitter for the Mavericks. Michael Young, the cleanup hitter for the Rangers, has been criticized that he just can’t get it done. People wanted Young traded and even as recently as Friday wanted him moved down in the batting order. If you recall, before Nowitzki won the championship this year, many critics argued that Dallas would never win with Nowitzki. Young, like Nowitzki, ignored the critics to play the game he knew he was capable of. It worked too, as Young had two doubles and 4 RBI…in the 3rd inning that Saturday night. Now, Nowitzki came to be known as a player who could throw the dagger to just demoralize the opposition in the NBA post-season. As Young came to the plate later in the game, someone reached out to shake his hand in the crowd. It wasn’t former President Bush, or Nolan Ryan. No, it was no one else but the big-German himself. Dirk Nowitzki shaking hands with Young. What did Young do at that bat you may wonder? He hit a home-run that was the dagger and demoralizing shot the Rangers needed to knock out a very solid Tigers team.

The Texas Rangers have an abnormal consistency about them. From former Presidents in the crowd, to managers who are as lively as their player, to players who didn’t know what role they would be playing on the team this year. A pitching staff with no sure-shot ace in the eyes of most analysts (Even though C.J. Wilson had 16 wins this year) An MVP who is never healthy, and their most consistent hitter played every position in the infield except pitcher and catcher. The last team that gave me this type of feeling won a championship. It is a feeling that even when things are going wrong, they will turn around. Bad things will happen, but they will be able bounce back and overcome them. Unlike another Dallas team where even though good things are happening, I know the bad is on the horizon and that they will eventually weigh out the good. To sum it up though, it is very difficult to call a team that has won back-to-back A.L. pennants average. It’s unheard of actually. I guess we’ll see though. The World Series begins in St. Louis on Wednesday and the Rangers will go up against the Cardinals. I don’t know how it will all end or how it will go down, but I do know one thing. This series will be anything but average.

-Colby Conner
Day to Day Sports Contributor and co-creator


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