Rangers on verge of joining elite
After back-to-back pennants, title would seal club's superiority
ST. LOUIS -- It is time now for the Texas Rangers to take that one final step, the one final step that will bring them to two places at once.
That one final step would be to a World Series championship, but also to complete, unquestioned status as an elite Major League franchise. Look out -- here come the Rangers.
In 2010, the Rangers enjoyed their breakthrough season, their first American League pennant -- their arrival as a real force in contemporary baseball. There is only one suitable encore for that performance. The 2011 Rangers are one victory away from that encore, with a 3-2 lead in the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals and the first pitch of Game 6 scheduled for 7:05 CT on Thursday night at Busch Stadium.
The back-to-back appearances in the World Series constitute, in this era of increased parity, a rarity itself. The last AL club to appear in back-to-back World Series, other than the Yankees, was the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and '93. Speaking of the Yankees, the gold standard for the postseason, they have been to the World Series once in the last eight seasons -- or one appearance fewer than the Texas Rangers in that time period.
This is a remarkable success story given that just months before the 2010 World Series, the Texas franchise was in bankruptcy court. There, its largest single creditor at one point was Alex Rodriguez, to whom a previous ownership pledged $252 million over 10 years, in part based on the theory that the more A-Rod was paid, the more people would come to see him play. Oops. Apparently not.
But here are the Rangers now, not only in great shape for the moment, but seemingly for the future as well. They have an absolutely ideal point man as team president; Nolan Ryan, a Texan, a Hall of Famer and a man with definite ideas about making starting pitchers once again into something other than six-inning part-timers.
The baseball administration under general manager Jon Daniels has done the one thing that a contemporary organization must do -- it has discovered, drafted and developed its very own pitching, in both quality and quantity. Oh, the Rangers are well set with young pitching.
So when the external gnashing of teeth was heard because last year's postseason ace, Cliff Lee, departed via free agency for Philadelphia, the Rangers did not have to join in the wailing and moaning. They had young pitchers positioned to step in, step up and take up the slack.
Check out Game 4 of this very World Series. With the Rangers down, two games to one, in the immediate aftermath of the Cardinals stomping them to the tune of 16 runs in Game 3, in stepped Derek Holland, a 25th-round Draft pick in 2006. The left-hander produced the biggest game of his life, the Cardinals produced two hits instead of 16 runs and the entire Series was turned around.
The Rangers have assembled an impressive group of athletes at the everyday positions. They have power, they have speed and they have depth. Their offense is imposing in its pop, impressive in its breadth. The whole thing is operated with enthusiasm, empathy and insight by manager Ron Washington. Despite what he says about his inability to match wits with the legendary Tony La Russa, Washington is obviously not overmatched in this Series or any other.
On top of all the on-field assets, the Rangers are coming into an extremely lucrative local television deal. And the club's success over the last two seasons has dramatically increased its ticket-buying fan base. This is an operation that is finally living up to its market size. The Rangers are truly becoming Texas-sized.
The World Series championship is not yet a done deal, but it would be -- for this supremely well-set-up Rangers team -- just the beginning.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.