Yesterday, the Texas Rangers completed a sweep of a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals on the road. While it was the second time the Rangers had played a series there since that fateful World Series in 2011 -- the first being in 2013, a series Texas also swept -- this is perhaps the first time since then that the Rangers have fielded a team that just feels magical.
Sure, that 2013 team was pretty good. It won 91 games and had a fantastic finish to the season. After heading into that September with a 2.0 game lead on the Oakland A's in the AL West, Texas opened the month with a 5-15 record, that seemingly knocked them out of playoff contention if not for a 7-game win streak to close out the regular season and force a one-game playoff against the Tampa Bay Rays for a wild card spot.
That, of course, was one season after Texas entered September with a 4.0 game lead on Oakland. The Rangers started that season -- coming off of the World Series disappointment in St. Louis -- looking like a team on a mission. That team headed into July at 50-29, and there were stretches in which Josh Hamilton looked as if he might break baseball, none more impressive than his four home run performance in Baltimore on May 8, 2012.
That season ended in disappointment as well, with Texas losing the division on the final day of the season against Oakland, then losing the Wild Card game against Baltimore with Yu Darvish on the hill.
And really, when you think about it, for 29 teams, every season ends in disappointment. For some, that disappointment is worse than others. And sometimes, the disappointment is just... well, different. There's something totally different about being the worst team in baseball from April 1 to October 1 than coming one strike away from winning a World Series. Neither is inherently worse or better than the other, but the ride is different, and it there are differing experiences along the way.
That's what makes it all the more important for us to appreciate what is going on with these 2016 Texas Rangers. Because they're doing something special in their own way, and while we have no way of knowing how things will turn out -- with over three months still to go in the regular season -- enjoying the ride is just as important as being there for that final pitch, whenever that may be.
Texas now finds themselves 8.5 games up in the AL West. Not since the World Series seasons has Texas been up with that kind of margin in the division. That excellent 2012 season I mentioned? Yeah, not even during that season while holding a winning percentage above .600 on the same date.
Texas won the AL West in 2010 by 9 games, and 10 games in 2011, and haven't been this far up at any point since. That means something, even if it's only June 20.
For an even more macro perspective, take a look at how insanely successful this organization has been since the beginning of 2010. Since then, Texas has won 570 games, good for third in all of baseball behind the New York Yankees (577) and St. Louis Cardinals (586). If we go back to 2009 -- a season in which Texas still won 87 games and would have been the division champs if they'd played in the AL Central -- they only move down one slot to fourth in baseball at 657 wins, two behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That's even more impressive when you think about 2014: A record-setting plague of injuries set in and Texas only managed to win 67 games, dead last in the AL West.
And so now, with Texas looking to continue building on their division lead, they do so with a completely different team than the ones that went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. Almost complete roster turnover, and only one losing season to show for it since 2009.
That's a testament to Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo, Ian Desmond and others that have come in to fill roles, for sure. However, it's also a testament to mainstays such as Adrian Beltre, Colby Lewis, and especially general manager Jon Daniels.
This morning, the Rangers sit at 45-25, the earliest in franchise history they've been 20 games above .500, and the earliest they've been up even 7.5 games in the division. That's a .643 winning percentage, on pace for 104 wins. In April, that sort of winning percentage gets swept under the "small sample size" rug. It's now almost July. I think it's safe to say that this team is pretty good.
Some are justifiably concerned about the upcoming schedule. Between June 27 and July 24, Texas plays a measly four games at home. While that would be concerning for any ball club, consider that it keeps Texas out of the sweltering heat for the better part of a month, right when the summer sun gets to be unbearable at times. Instead, the Rangers will be playing in New York, Boston, Minnesota, Chicago, Anaheim, and Kansas City. Each of those destinations figures to be cooler than it will be in Arlington.
So maybe, just maybe, that could serve to help preserve some of the team's energy down the stretch of the season, a stretch in which Texas will finish with a significant portion of their games at home.
In the meantime, this team has been incredibly fun to watch. And while they should certainly now be the favorites in the AL West, I can't wait to see how the remainder of this season unfolds. This is why we love baseball: So we can enjoy stretches like these.