Red hot Rangers have sights set on postseason

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Texas Rangers starting pitcher C.J. Wilson throws in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Saturday, in Seattle.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

In the midst of an 11-game win streak, the Rangers are showing that last year’s AL pennant was no fluke.

You could always count on Texas for plenty of runs every night. Before last season, you could count on the same from their opponent as well. Since all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan took over the organization, the Texas pitching staff that was once a burden is now what’s driving the team’s recent success.

Ryan’s disregard of pitch counts and emphasis on starting pitchers going deeper into games has worked wonders for his staff. In 2008, Ryan’s first year as Rangers president, Texas finished dead last in team ERA, WHIP, quality starts and opposing batting average. This season, the Rangers have improved to a 3.81 team ERA, more than 1.5 runs below what it was in ’08 and they are on-pace for 102 quality starts, nearly twice as many as they had four seasons ago.

Despite losing southpaw extraordinaire Cliff Lee, Texas’ pitching staff is as formidable as it was in 2010. C.J. Wilson was an All-Star this season. Derek Holland has thrown consecutive complete game shutouts. Colby Lewis was an out away from tossing one in his last start. Alexi Ogando has brilliantly and seamlessly made the transition from reliever to starter.

The Rangers lineup is still fearsome. Even without two critical parts of their lineup ­— Nelson Cruz (for nearly three weeks) and defending AL MVP Josh Hamilton (for over five weeks) — Texas hung on to its division lead. On May 23, Cruz and Hamilton both homered in their first games back. Since their return from the disabled list, Texas is 29-18, good for the major league’s fourth-best record in that span.

Middle infielders Ian Kinsler, who has miraculously managed to stay healthy all season, and Elvis Andrus have been solid so far. On the corners, Mitch Moreland and third baseman Adrian Beltre are just as reliable. Remarkably, Michael Young leads Texas with a .323 batting average — impressive considering he was thought of as an afterthought this offseason after the acquisition of Beltre. Young is 32 hits away from 2,000 career.

Former Longhorn catcher Taylor Teagarden recently had a brief stint with the Rangers after Mike Napoli was injured. Teagarden made six starts in the three weeks he spent in the big leagues, hitting .269. In his last game, Teagarden went out in style, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and a pair of RBI.

On his way back from the DL, Napoli spent some time playing for the Round Rock Express. He blasted a walk-off home run one night and homered twice the next night, with the second sending the game into extra innings. Napoli was called up July 4 and is hitting .391 and slugging a whopping .913.

But considering the Rangers recent history, Napoli’s power surge shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Texas Rangers have always hit well. As long as their pitching staff stays healthy and performs the way it did in the first half of the season, they should find themselves in the playoffs once again. 

Printed on 07/18/2011 as: Rangers putting wins together in hopes of another AL crown