Darn that Derek Holland and Wrigley the Dog for putting Texas Rangers fans on the fritz and making baseball pundits who ran away from the team look like dopes.
The Rangers, as memory serves, became favorites to win their division after trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo. But their stock fell quicker than a newspaper company’s when Holland and Wrigley became entangled on a Dallas staircase in January, thus jump-starting an injury rash that wouldn’t relent.
Matt Harrison, Jurickson Profar, Geovany Soto, Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre. Many more. All injured just in spring training. Beltre, chief among others, got gobbled up again after Opening Day.
Left in the wake has been a roster that no one could have possibly envisioned taking the field this season.
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There are journeymen (Josh Wilson, Kevin Kouzmanoff), waiver claims (Donnie Murphy, Shawn Tolleson, Pedro Figueroa), pitchers thrust into new roles (Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers) and inexperienced players performing in key spots (Robinson Chirinos, Michael Choice, Nick Martinez).
Nearly four weeks into the 2014 season, though, the left-for-dead Rangers were at the top of the American League entering Thursday, which served as a well-deserved off day for those who have been starring in the Miracle on Randol Mill.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re outscoring anybody or outpitching anybody, but we’re finding ways to win,” right-hander Jason Frasor said. “It’s great. It’s blue-collar baseball.”
The Rangers improved to 14-8 on Wednesday and moved a half-game up on Oakland after a three-game sweep of the A’s. The Rangers have tossed a baseball-best six shutouts, and won seven games decided after the seventh inning. Considering the pieces that have been entrusted to keep the team from sinking, miracle might not be too strong of a word to describe what has transpired this month.
But that’s the view from the outside. Cameras at Globe Life Park and notepads in the Rangers’ clubhouse haven’t captured all of what the players saw in spring training and are seeing now.
Though some players come up short in WAR — many are the replacement-level player that serves as the baseline for the go-to statistic — they aren’t afraid to fight.
That concept causes some eyes to roll or often is disregarded because there’s no scientific way to quantify character. But the Rangers believe that chemistry and character have been major factors this month.
“Despite some of the injuries to some important players, we’ve got guys that want to go out there and win and compete. That’s all we’ve been doing,” Wilson said.
“There’s certainly a place for the statistical analysis, but you can’t quantify a guy that’s never going to give in. When you have 25 guys on a team that are not going to give up and are not going to give in and are not going to capitulate, I don’t know how you look at numbers and see something like that.”
Leadership matters. The tone set in the clubhouse matters.
Sorry, haters of the sacrifice bunt and aggressive base running, but Ron Washington is having his finest month since becoming manager in November 2006.
The Rangers are winning, in large part, because the players have bought into the attitude Washington set in spring training and because of his unflappable belief that players like Wilson, Murphy and Kouzmanoff are going to help the Rangers win.
Washington is also putting those players in a position to have success.
“He wants to win, and his attitude is pretty infectious,” Wilson said. “He’s hands-on. He likes to get out there and get dirty with us. That’s important. That goes a long way toward building confidence and building trust. Everything trickles down from the top. The team is going to take the personality of its leaders.”
As Frasor said, Washington keeps things loose.
“You can have a really good lineup or a really good team and really good names, but there’s a selfishness. But not here,” Frasor said. “That’s the Rangers. It’s so loose. You’re free to be yourself. It carries over to the field.”
Beltre will be in the starting lineup Friday night after 15 unwanted days on the disabled list, and Harrison will be the starting pitcher Sunday after more than 365 unwanted days on the disabled list.
Beltre is facing a tall task to be better than Kouzmanoff has been the past two weeks, and Harrison has to exceed two performances of Double A spot starter Martinez.
Beltre and Harrison, of course, are better than their fill-ins and will be better over the remaining 140 games. The Rangers will benefit.
As big names escape from the DL, the hottest team in the American League, the one with most wins and the best record, should be more formidable.
But the stars of the Miracle on Randol Mill the past two weeks deserve a curtain call.
“They’re playing really well, and the record shows that,” Beltre said. “There are a bunch of players that you can mention. It’s a team effort. It shows that we have some depth, and that if we’re missing somebody, other guys can step up and do the job.”