Off-Field Drama, But On-Field Success

Texas has biggest division lead despite bankruptcy, Baltimore sweep

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    From left, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and manager Ron Washington celebrate Kinsler's homerun during a game last month.

    The Texas Rangers are in bankruptcy and up for auction. They went into the All-Star break after being swept at home by the worst team in the majors.

    No longer is it a certainty that Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher and team president, will become a co-owner.

    And yet the Rangers are having arguably their best season ever. On the field.

    Even with the off-field drama and that ugly four-game series last weekend against Baltimore, the Rangers (50-38) are 4½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. That is the largest lead in any of baseball's six divisions coming out of the break.

    "I've been through every possible twist and turn," said Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger in his 10th season. "A lot of unknowns and a couple of rebuilding processes, and now here we are. It's just time to go on the field, be loose and have some fun."

    Texas opens a four-game series at Boston on Thursday, then goes to Cleveland before coming home to play the Angels.

    The 50-year-old franchise, which moved from Washington to Texas in 1972, has never won a playoff series. The Rangers have had only two winning seasons since their last playoff appearance in 1999.

    That dreadful history and the ongoing bankruptcy case related to the stalled sale of the team, which now includes a scheduled Aug. 4 auction, don't seem to affecting their play on the field.

    "What I sense is a confidence," manager Ron Washington said.

    Ryan before the season said he expected the Rangers to win at least 92 games. Texas is on pace to win at least 98, and now has coveted All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee in the starting rotation.

    "Now it's on us. It's on us," Washington said, repeating with emphasis. "I don't think we can cry for anything else. ... There were expectations on us. Now there's really expectations on us."

    Despite financial uncertainty, general manager Jon Daniels last week pulled off a six-player deal to add Lee from Seattle. The pitcher who twice beat the Yankees in last year's World Series while with Philadelphia, appeared headed to New York.

    Instead, Texas got him three weeks before the non-waiver trading deadline.

    The Rangers had already gotten from San Francisco veteran catcher Bengie Molina, whose three playoff trips includes a World Series title with the Angels in 2002.

    "We might have a little more confidence in ourselves," All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We have guys that have been to the playoffs, have been to the big stage that are big parts of the team and that helps. But we understand we have a long way to go."

    Lee made his Texas debut in a complete-game 6-1 loss to the Orioles on Saturday night, when he threw 73 of 95 pitches for strikes. His next start is Saturday at Boston, which puts him in line to start the series opener against the rival Angels.

    The newly acquired pitcher was one of six players wearing Rangers uniforms during Tuesday night's All-Star game. Sluggers Josh Hamilton (.346, 22 home runs, 64 RBIs) and Vladimir Guerrero (.319, 20, 75) both were AL starters while Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus also played. Rookie reliever Neftali Feliz (23 saves) didn't get in the game.

    When the Rangers return home next week, it will be the start of a 16-game stretch against AL West teams with seven against the Angels, who have won five of the last six division titles. That is followed by visits from the Yankees and Red Sox.

    Texas has improved its record each season under fourth-year manager Washington, who is 291-283 overall. But Washington doesn't have a contract past this season.

    There was no extension last year despite 87 wins and a second-place finish in the AL West. But team officials did stick by him last summer when he admitted to using cocaine once, a revelation that became public during spring training.

    Meanwhile, the proposed sale of the team from Tom Hicks to a group led by Ryan and Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg drags on long after their Jan. 23 announcement that they had a deal.

    The Rangers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May in hopes of spurring completion of the sale. Concerns by creditors over the financially strapped Hicks Sports Group have complicated the deal.

    A federal bankruptcy judge has set an Aug. 4 auction, at which other approved groups could make bids to buy the team. A final hearing is scheduled after the auction to approve the Rangers' bankruptcy plan.

    If Ryan's group doesn't emerge as the owner, his future with club in any role becomes uncertain.

    "I haven't given that any thought," Ryan insisted last week after the Lee announcement. "My mindset, I'm planning on going through the year and finishing the season and see eventually where things are and then make some kind of determination off that."