The Texas Rangers finished with a 95-67 record, winning the AL West while nine games clear of the second-place Seattle Mariners. The lack of competition within the division, and thus the lack of a late-season race for the playoffs, may have kept the Rangers mostly off your radar this season. Now’s the time to pay attention, though, because this is a good team with some of the most entertaining players in the league, and also that one guy who likes to punch people.
The Rangers are both lucky and good. Their Pythagorean record is an unimpressive 82-80, and they rode an absurd record in one-run games to the division title. That’s not to say the Rangers don’t belong here, though, because the current version of this team is the best it has been all year. Luck played a big role in getting the Rangers this far, but they won’t need it to keep winning.
The Rangers have a dangerous hitter in just about every spot in the lineup, thanks in large part to a few key deadline trades. Carlos Beltrán, an old man who is still the God King of postseason baseball, was acquired from the Yankees and provides a middle-of-the-order bat from the DH spot. They also went out and got one of the best hitting catchers in baseball in Jonathan Lucroy, who has socked 11 dingers and posted an .885 OPS since joining the Rangers. Even Carlos Gómez, who looked like he was on his way out of baseball after getting DFA’d by the Astros, has posted a .905 OPS since the Rangers scooped him off the scrap heap in August. This lineup is so deep now that perennial All-Star Shin-Soo Choo, who has been injured most of the season, might not even have a place in it anymore. Hell, rookie stud Nomar Mazara slapped 20 dongs this year, and he’ll probably hit seventh or eighth.
The starting rotation is also in much better shape than it was a few months ago, simply due to the presence of Yu Darvish. He made three starts after missing all of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but then missed another month after leaving a June start with shoulder discomfort. He’s been pretty great since returning from that injury, though, striking out 113 guys in 84.2 second-half innings. He’s set to lead the Rangers into the playoffs as another legitimate ace alongside Cole Hamels, who quietly put together yet another 200-inning, 200-strikeout season.
Lotsa guys. You already know all about Adrián Beltré and his good buddy Elvis Andrus, but please be aware the Beltre is 37 now, and this might be one of your last chances to see one of the best and most entertaining players in MLB history do his thing in the playoffs. He had one of his best seasons ever this year, hitting .300/.358/.521 with 32 strong home runs.
And, yes, there’s that Rougned Odor guy. Are we gonna play the clip again? Hell yes we are, buddy:
Hoo boy! He really tagged him!
We can all agree that punching people on a baseball field is not a super cool thing to do, but allow me to mount a tepid defense of ol’ Punchin’ Rougy here. If you watch that GIF enough times, you’ll start to notice that Bautista is in the process of cocking his right fist, perhaps because he was getting to deliver a punch of his own. A lot of people have been calling Odor’s punch a “sucker punch,” but I don’t think that’s quite fair. He just has faster hands than Joey Bats.
Aside from the punching, Odor is very good at baseball. Not only is he the kind of scrapping, hustling player that can annoy a team to death, he’s also the dude who hit 33 long balls and 33 doubles this year. And he’s still just 22! He’s good.
The Rangers also have Ian Desmond, who managed to turn his very sad story into a relatively happy one. When we last checked in with Desmond, he was starring in a depressing cautionary tale that taught us to never, ever believe in ourselves. But all he’s done since signing his one-year, $8 million deal with the Rangers and moving from shortstop to outfield is play All-Star caliber baseball. Desmond dusted himself off and turned in another 20-20 season with a respectable .782 OPS. That $107 million extension he refused to sign with the Nationals is never coming back, but here’s hoping his solid performance this year will earn him some money this offseason.
Also, keep your eye on Nomar Mazara. He’s an exceptionally polished rookie who has been quietly kicking ass as the Rangers’ everyday right fielder, and he’s probably a player you’re going to be seeing in All-Star games for years to come. Now is as good a time as any to familiarize yourself with him. Look at how goddamn pretty his swing is:
The St. Louis Cardinals did not reach the playoffs this year, which makes them ineligible to play in the 2016 World Series. So, no, this Rangers team cannot beat the Cardinals.
Nomar Mazara’s chin is strong and well-manicured.
Because the Rangers can be whoever you want them to be, really.
Are you an MMA enthusiast with lots of tattoos and a strong belief that baseball needs more violence? Well, buddy, Rougned Odor is right here with his what’re-you-looking-at-bro facial hair and his punching fists.
Maybe you’re a fan who just appreciates expressive players that aren’t afraid to show how much fun they’re having on the field. If that’s the case, then come over here and meet Adrián Beltré and Elvis Andrus.
Like good pitching? Watching Yu Darvish work his way through a lineup when he’s on top of his game is like doing really good drugs.
Or are you one of those sentimental dad types who wants a feel-good story to invest in? Then have fun rooting for Beltré and Carlos Beltrán, two beloved and accomplished oldsters who have yet to earn a World Series ring. A world in which these two future Hall of Famers are champions will indeed be a better one.