We know that the Rangers will be in the playoffs this season.
This is obviously a good thing. Taking away all of the things that have caused you to fret about the team's performance over the course of the season for a moment and just focusing on the fact that you can't win a World Series without making the playoffs should make that clear to even the most pessimisitic of observers.
How good are the Rangers' chances of winning the World Series? On paper, they appear to be pretty good. It's impossible to make much of an argument that the Rangers aren't either the most or second-most talented team in the American League from 1-25 and that's nothing to sneeze at. Here's where the creeping doubts about the team creep back into the picture, though.
We don't know exactly where they will start their postseason voyage at this point in time, mostly because the Rangers have failed time and time again to put the AL West away despite ample opportunities to take control of the division. Nitpicking the reasons for this failure has been done to death, so now we'll just look at whether or not this bodes poorly for them come the postseason.
History says that it does. The folks at Lone Star Ball have put together a chart showing the performance of every World Series winner from 1969-2011 in the first three months and last three months of the season to see if there's any overwhelming evidence that it is better to open or close well. Since 2000, the answer has been to close well.
Only four of the last 12 World Series winners have had a better first three months than last three months and only one of those four (the 2005 White Sox) have played the final three months at a greater disparity from the first three months than the Rangers. The good news is that the trends don't hold so well before 2000, but it's worth noting that neither of the last two Rangers teams showed anything like this year's dropoff from July through September/October.
The question is whether this is a sign of the team wearing down, if it is overconfidence or simply a case of flipping on cruise control a little bit too early. The latter doesn't say much about the team's leadership, but it is the best-case scenario of the three because it suggests they can flip the switch back to become the team they were in April, May and June.