There are several reasons to believe the Texas Rangers might as well forget about the current season — for the second straight season — and focus on the next one, and it all starts with the fact that the team's best player and ace, Yu Darvish, was shelved for the season just 12 pitches into spring training.
Then, the team's de facto ace after Darvish's injury threw nine pitches in his season debut and was put on the 60-day disabled list. It's the very definition of catastrophic, debilitating, etc. You name the negative adjective, and that describes that scenario for a team looking to get back into the competitive balance of the American League this year.
Instead, the Rangers got off to a 7-14 start in April and quickly brought up the idea of "mixing things up" including player demotions, benchings and even coach firings. It was ugly, and it still is. But the team has now won two straight for the first time this year, won its first series of the year and will go for its first sweep Wednesday night against the Astros, who entered this series as the hottest team in baseball riding a 10-game win streak.
It's been bad, and the worst part recently has been the play of the bullpen, which is beginning to get a new look and turn things around, specifically 21-year-old Keone Kela. The offense has also been horrific, but that's starting to turn itself around, too. Need proof? Let the great Jamey Newberg, all-knowing Rangers czar explain it to you:
Elvis Andrus (.333/.455/.389 over his last 10 games, with eight walks and five strikeouts) is coming alive, and so is the pop in Shin-Soo Choo’s bat (.286/.304/.667 since coming back from a few days off). Adrian Beltre (.291/.350/.400 over his last 60 trips, hits in 12 of 14 games) is waking up, Prince Fielder (.350/.407/.485) has been a blast to watch all year, and Kyle Blanks (.391/.440/.826) is here.
Preach on, Jamey.
But here's where things get really interesting: How about that Rangers' rotation?
"Say what??" you're saying. It's true.
Over the past 13 games, the Rangers' starters have the best third-best ERA in baseball with a mark of 2.71. And they're doing that without Darvish, without Holland, without Martin Perez and without Matt Harrison. All but one of those guys are supposed to be back at some point this summer. Let that sink in for a moment.
Then, go ahead and consider what the rest of the AL West is doing. There was a widely held thought that the AL West was arguably the best division in the American League entering this year with the 90-win Angels, the re-tooled Rangers, the massively re-tooled Mariners, the always tough A's and then the up-and-coming Astros.
So far, the Astros have surprised everyone while racing out to the best record in the AL, and that's even with two straight losses to the Rangers. The Rangers are in last place in the West, at 7 1/2 games behind the Astros. But they're only 1 1/2 games out of second-place Los Angeles.
Who knows? If the Rangers can stay competitive and stay within that pack, then get some reinforcements on the pitching staff and in the lineup like Mitch Moreland and, oh yeah, that guy Josh Hamilton, they could go on a nice little streak themselves. Then, everything can change.
Chances are, we're still looking ahead to 2016, but there are plenty of reasons to believe this could still be a fun year for baseball in Arlington.