Monday night, a little after 7 p.m. Eastern, the Texas Rangers will kick off a three-game set at home against the New York Yankees. Lefty Derek Holland will oppose lefty CC Sabathia. Come Tuesday, it'll be Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda. And then Wednesday, other guys. This should be a hell of a series, as the Rangers face perhaps the other best team in the American League.
Of course, the Rangers are coming off a four-game series in Detroit against the Tigers, who might also be perhaps the other best team in the American League. That could've and should've been a hell of a series, too, but the Rangers wound up winning three out of four, and out-scoring the Tigers 25-12. The last two were close; the first two were blowouts. Depending on your definition of the term, the Rangers have already won five blowouts. The Cubs, Red Sox, and Royals have yet to win five games.
In fact, before the year, one might've figured this part of the schedule would be a real challenge for Texas. There's a series against Boston, followed by a series against Detroit, followed by a series against New York, followed by a series against Tampa Bay. So far the Rangers have gone 6-1, and while we know that the Red Sox have been a little less than advertised, the Rangers have been a big part of that. The Rangers swept the Red Sox, in Boston, and out-scored them 34-9. Again, for reference, the Pirates have scored 30 runs all season.*
* the Pirates have scored 30 runs all season.
The 2012 American League West was supposed to look something like previous versions of the American League East. There were to be two tiers: the haves, and the have-nots. The Rangers and the Angels were supposed to be involved in a six-month dogfight, while the Mariners and the A's were supposed to film the dogfight from the ground. I mean, sure, the Rangers added Yu Darvish, but the Rangers lost C.J. Wilson, and the Angels added C.J. Wilson along with Kendrys Morales and a certain Albert Pujols. The Angels came in with so many bats they had to have Bobby Abreu and Mark Trumbo on the bench. The Angels came in with so many excellent starters that people were like, wow, they have a lot of excellent starters.
Over the offseason, I read more than a few articles declaring that the Rangers and the Angels were the two best teams in the American League. They might indeed be the two best teams in the American League. But when the Rangers woke up Monday morning, they woke up with the knowledge that the Angels were in last place, seven games back. The Mariners are six-and-a-half games back and mediocre. The A's are five-and-a-half games back and mediocre. The A's and the Mariners ain't threatening the Rangers. And if the Angels intend to threaten the Rangers, they'll probably want to go undefeated for a couple of months.
The Rangers already have a seven-game lead on the Angels. Actually, they already had a seven-game lead on the Angels last Thursday. The Angels won a series against the Orioles and gained no ground. Most pre-season projections I saw put the Rangers and the Angels at being similarly good. The Angels now have to make up seven games in the division just to catch the Rangers, and ten percent of the season is over.
When you think about the fact that there are still another 146 games to be played, including all of the head-to-head games between the Rangers and the Angels, seven games doesn't seem like that much. When you think about it harder, it seems like that much. It would be one thing to out-run a team like the Blue Jays or the White Sox by seven games the rest of the way, but the Rangers are the Rangers. Their big vulnerability has nothing to do with the talent they have, and more to do with their ability to keep that talent on the field. It's April 23, and the Rangers are in an incredibly commanding position.
Check out the playoff odds listed at ESPN.com. The Yankees are at 72 percent. Wow! The Cardinals are at 74 percent. Wowee! The Rangers are at 96 percent. A little above 96 percent, at that. What I like even more is the breakdown at CoolStandings, and while I do not suggest you take these too seriously, the Rangers' odds of winning the division have improved from 61 percent at the start of the season to 90 percent now. You can find more bearish odds elsewhere, and perhaps more accurate odds, but they'll all tell you this: the Rangers are the overwhelming favorites in the AL West, and if they were to miss the playoffs now, it would be a near-miracle.
The Rangers could start resting Josh Hamilton now to gear up for October. I don't actually mean that, but they've already relieved themselves of so much potential stress. They have a lot of ground they could give before they have to be truly worried about anything; so if, say, Neftali Feliz hits a rough spot, they could back off or skip over him. If Hamilton or Nelson Cruz feels discomfort, he could sit without pushing it. If Adrian Beltre ruptures another testicle, he could take two or three days. It's not that the Rangers can relax; it's that they can play without any anxiety. For now, at least, so long as the lead doesn't disappear, the Rangers can be like a writer without a deadline. They can work without worry.
Look the Angels up and down. They look good, but there's a part of you that'll say, yeah, I think I get it. Look the Rangers up and down. Where are the problems? Mitch Moreland hasn't hit, but Mike Napoli can play first base. That's ... pretty much it for the offense, aside from injury potential. The Rangers don't have much depth in the outfield. In the rotation, the biggest question mark might be Yu Darvish, which must be a hell of a problem to have. The issue in the bullpen is Joe Nathan, and he has a walk and nine strikeouts. The Rangers have it so good it's easy to forget they have Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe, potential setup guys on several other teams.
The Texas Rangers are 13-3. They've scored three more runs than anybody else, and they've allowed two fewer runs than anybody else. They're not this good, because 13-3 works out to 132-30, and the Texas Rangers aren't going to win 132 games. But they could win 100. Maybe even 105. They're off to a good head start. The Angels aren't this bad, but if they want to challenge the Rangers for the division, their work is cut out for them, and then some. On the footpath to the playoffs, the Rangers have time to smell the flowers and take pictures of a waterfall. The Angels have to run like they're being chased by bees.