It’s no longer the baseball preseason. Time to get your ass fired up for the regular fall season of America’s Pastime. Read all our playoff team previews here. Today, you’re getting to know … THE TEXAS RANGERS.
Congratulations to the Texas Rangers, who managed to retool on the fly and take advantage of one of baseball’s weaker divisions to get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. With a farm system chockablock full of prospects, the Rangers weren’t supposed to be this good this fast. But at the trade deadline, with the team a few games below .500, GM Jon Daniels made the bold decision to be a buyer instead of a seller. He picked up rotation and bullpen help, and along with a cast of aged-but-still-productive hitters, it was just enough to squeak by the Astros and into the playoffs.
The Rangers are a team of castoffs and supposedly over-the-hill veterans. If you only pay scant attention to baseball, there’s a bunch of players you’ll be surprised to learn are on the Rangers. Wait, Adrian Beltre has been there for five seasons? I thought Prince Fielder was on the Brewers, or maybe the Tigers? Wait up, Cole Hamels isn’t still pitching in a rotation with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay? When did Shin Soo Choo leave Cleveland?
At the trade deadline the Rangers were 49-52, eight games back of the Astros in the AL West and behind six teams for the AL’s final Wild Card spot. Even that was better than most predicted, as they only won 67 games last year. When they traded for Hamels, it seemed to be about future seasons. But along with the shrewd pickup of reliever Sam Dyson from the Marlins, the Rangers went an absolutely blistering 39-22 after the deadline, tied for the third-best record over that time.
The underlying numbers tell a slightly different story: that the Rangers are basically an average team with good relief pitching and meh starting pitching, a decent infield and a meh outfield. According to Pythagorean Win-Loss (a measure of what a team’s record “should” be given how many runs they’ve scored and allowed, and a more accurate predictor of future performance than a team’s record) the Rangers are one of the luckiest teams in baseball, with five more wins than they “should” have.
If you can only know about one guy, it has to be Adrian Beltre. And if you can only know one thing about Adrian Beltre, it is that you should NOT. TOUCH. HIS. HEAD!
Beltre is 36 and finally on the downslope of his hall-of-fame career, yet still finished with the 18th highest WAR among position players, in part because he remains one of the best defensive third basemen in the league. We could talk about his late-career renaissance in Texas or how he should be a lock for Cooperstown, but the best thing about Beltre is how much damn fun he has playing baseball. There are the head-touching antics, the time he sent Garrett Richards an invoice the day after Richards broke his bat three times, his rivalry with Felix Hernandez, and how he just so happens to be the most GIFable player in the league. Adrian Beltre is an absolute delight.
There’s also Prince Fielder, who at first glance is one of those guys whose physiques makes you think “I know I sit around in my underwear eating Oreos all day, but maybe I could be an elite athlete too?” And then you remember that Fielder can bench press approximately one million pounds and mash the baseball halfway to Mars. He doesn’t do that quite as much anymore—he “only” hit 23 home runs this season—but he’s still a fearsome middle-of-the-order presence. Fielder missed most of last season after having surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck, and has over $100 million left on his contract, but those are worries for another day.
Second baseman Rougned Odor is just 21, and should be manning the position for the Rangers for the next decade. He’d kind of a dirty player, but more importantly he has a brother. In the Rangers’ system. Who also plays in the infield. Who is also named Rougned. That’s right: Rougned Odor has a brother named Rougned Odor. And there are so many more Odors:
The Odors are great.
No, they cannot, but maybe Rougned Odor can slide spikes up into the St. Louis Arch and take out America’s lamest monument.
Elvis Andrus’s beard line makes him look like a ventriloquist’s dummy:
You want a heartwarming storyline? Rookie manager Jeff Banister spent eight years in the minors, making it to the majors for a single game, where he got an infield hit in his only plate appearance. He then spent another 20 years coaching before finally getting his shot with the Rangers. And if you want a dumb hashtag to go with your heartwarming storyline #NeverEverQuit has you covered.
You want antics? This team’s got antics. There is Beltre, of course, the king of antics. There is “sideline” reporter Jim Knox, the best in the business, who is always up to no good. And then there is the team’s strange habit of wearing Halloween masks.
You want high-scoring games? The Rangers scored the fourth most runs in the majors this season, and The Ballpark in Arlington is an absolute bandbox. They also had the eighth worst ERA, meaning that even if the Rangers lose, it’s more likely to be 8-7 than 1-0. And just for good measure they had the fifth most stolen bases, so there should be some fun thievery as well.
And if the Rangers win the World Series, Adrian Beltre has promised to let you, yes you, touch his head.
Photo via Getty