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Don’t Look Now But The Rangers Might Be Good

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 23: Pitcher Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Texas Rangers celebrates with Jonah Heim #28 after throwing a 6-1 complete game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on May 23, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays have been a revelation this season … up until last night, when they lost 10-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays with actual pitchers and 10-0 with position players as pitchers. Suddenly, they seem—well, “vulnerable” might be melodramatic, but a good but normal baseball team seems a reasonable assessment. At least they haven't slaughtered any birds.

After starting the season 13-0, the Rays have eased into a more sustainable pace (22-15, or .595), and they are no longer hitting an unsustainably preposterous 2.5 homers per game or scoring 7.8 runs per game. They are also not playing Washington, Detroit, and Oakland all the time. These things are perhaps related.

This is not to dog Florida's good team (and frankly, the Marlins being 24-25 with an expected record of 18-31 is its own achievement), but to notice that the other two teams in the American League worth looking at are the Baltimore Orioles, for whom there is already an annoying large contingency of on-staff supporters, and the Texas Rangers, for which there is none at all.

The Orioles have the worst record in baseball over the past five complete seasons, but they padded that total by losing 333 games, largely on purpose, in the last three full years. The Rangers are themselves a disreputable 25th on that list, but when you see the Orioles go 47-115, 54-108, and 52-110, you see a team striving aggressively for the gaudiest possible failure. When you see the Rangers going 67-95, 60-102, and 68-94, you see a gray indistinct smear.

And this morning, the Rangers, not the Rays, have the best run differential in baseball, and a two-game lead in the AL West to go with it. They have spent more money than they ever have before, spent it better (Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and a phalanx of starting pitchers, some of whom have stayed healthy), and hired a manager who has the healer's touch and a quarter-century of results as proof.

Yes, we are speaking of Bruce Bochy, the crab-walking, grumble-talking, bucket-headed en route Cooperstowner who made the San Diego Padres a World Series team, the San Francisco Giants a three-time parade thrower, and has been brought in to Arlington to do for the moribund Rangers what Dusty Baker has done for the formerly felonious Houston Astros. Specifically, to make them a team worth caring about.

The Rangers aren't there yet, mind you. The sport is still fetishizing time-of-game stats and rising strikeout totals while trying to recalibrate its place in an increasingly crowded American sporting culture, so nobody is minding the Rangers. Their new new ballpark is as soulless as its old new ballpark, the team colors are standard-issue American flag knockoffs, and their logo is a T. The Orioles can outdo that in their sleep, whether it's this or this or this.

But this is also a team whose greatest glories are back-to-back World Series losses and six one-and-dones in 62-plus years of existence, and in the absence of history there are few avenues to notoriety other than winning, and few avenues to winning other than spending, and the best way to do that is to hire people with a track record. The two most famous Rangers now are Bochy and Jacob deGrom, and deGrom has a funky elbow, which means that until people catch up to Adolis Garcia, Josh Jung, Nathaniel Lowe, and Ezequiel Duran, the Rangers will remain a relatively nameless and faceless bunch as they have been their entire history.

To be sure, 2023 baseball is still mostly confusing. The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't gone off the rails yet, the San Diego Padres haven't gotten on them, Yankee fans are either booing their players or cheering their squirrels, the Arizona Diamondbacks are good and the St. Louis Cardinals are not. This is normal after 50 games, but the Rangers exceed even this because four last-place finishes in five years suggest a pattern of behavior that this start seems to defy.

Maybe it's just that Rangers owner Ray Davis finds Astros owner Jim Crane and his success to be intolerable (and let's hope that is so because billionaires turning on each other beats the wonders of nature every time), or maybe it's just that Bochy is a warlock with a size-9 hat. Either way, the Rangers are quietly becoming a thing, and quietly is how they have always done their business anyway. If they can maintain this rate into September, they may even cast a discernible shadow.

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