Mac Engel

These Rangers can be the best and end The Curse of Nolan Ryan

Rangers rookie right fielder Nomar Mazara, right, celebrates his home run with second baseman Rougned Odor (12) against Seattle on Saturday.
Rangers rookie right fielder Nomar Mazara, right, celebrates his home run with second baseman Rougned Odor (12) against Seattle on Saturday. Special to the Star-Telegram

Our pizza oven heat has not been turned on as yet and we are not even at baseball’s All-Star break, but it is difficult not to be overly happy about the local baseball team.

Like buy-your-World Series-tickets-now happy.

Prince Fielder has done nothing. Neither has Shin-Soo Choo. Yu Darvish is back, but he’s not Yu Darvish. His early exit from Wednesday’s game is a good reason to worry but not to panic.

Here is the truly insane part — the Texas Rangers have but one player that ranks in the top five of infielders or outfielders in All-Star fan voting, yet they are the best team in the American League — take a bow, Elvis Andrus. He’s fifth among AL shortstops.

The Chicago Cubs are the clear favorites to end the mythical hex that has chased that franchise for decades, but if any Rangers team can erase the eternal hurt of “Game 6” and bury the Curse of Nolan Ryan — which is real — it’s this team.

The only thing that is missing from making this a great team is a partially taxpayer-funded roof over the field plus a ticket-paying-customer funded air conditioning bill.

Even without a roof these Rangers have all of the necessary toys to win a World Series, and be the best team in the history of the franchise.

“It’s a little bit early but give me a couple of months and I’ll be able to tell you,” said Andrus, who was a member of the World Series team in 2010 and ’11.

Where is the fun in waiting when we can draw conclusions right now?

The Rangers are not perfect but they are fun to watch and have just enough youth to believe that late October baseball is inevitable.

In a five- or seven-game series this team matches up well against the other favorites from Kansas City, to the south side of Chicago, to Boston, to Baltimore to win the American League.

According to the good people in Las Vegas, the Rangers have steadily moved up this season and now are regarded as a quality buy to win their first World Series; the Rangers are 12-1 favorites, per the Westgate Las Vegas Sports Book … which sounds legitimate.

(Would I make this bet? I only gamble on women’s college basketball games.)

“The similarities between this team and those [World Series] teams is confidence,” Andrus said. “We know if we are down by two runs in the eighth inning, we believe we are going to win. That’s what we had in 2010, ’11 and even into 2012.

“That and the pitching is the best starting pitching we’ve had. And the bullpen, just all around, the pitching has been really, really good.”

Since Shawn Tolleson was belatedly kicked out of the closer’s role, the bullpen looks markedly better than its early season baseball tragedy.

No longer does manager Jeff Banister have to say a few extra prayers before calling down to the bullpen; relievers Sam Dyson, Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman and Matt Bush all have sub-2.92 ERAs.

“I feel good in that we have options,” Banister said. “As we sit right now I feel comfortable with where these guys are at.”

With Andrus, Rougned Odor and Ian Desmond, the Rangers are strong up the middle.

Unlike last season when the Rangers had a terrible tendency to give away runs and beat themselves with ish fielding, this group has figured it out. The team’s fielding percentage is top-10 in baseball, whereas last season it was the third worst in the majors.

You might remember a certain Game 5 in Toronto last fall where the defense was what a pundit might call “God awful.”

“The thing that I learned last season was not to take it for granted,” Andrus said. “You just want to keep it clean and give those pitchers a chance. This year we are on it.”

The lone ingredient lacking from this group that those World Series teams had is a Josh Hamilton-type of bat. In those two World Series years, Hamilton was the most feared hitter in a deep lineup.

He may have been half crazy, but in that small, memorable window he was Roy Hobbs, Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds.

Prince Fielder should be that for this team, but his best power days are gone. Despite the ascent of rookie Nomar Mazara, it’s too much to think that he could carry a lineup in playoff series. He’s just a baby.

That leaves Desmond, whose acquisition from the Washington Nationals in February has been the best deal of any team. The former shortstop has been much better than the Rangers could have guessed.

Desmond is not an in-his-prime Josh Hamilton, but he plays a good outfield and has a serious bat.

The whole thing is just too much not to fall in love with even if it is only June 8.

This is the team that can win the series and end The Curse.

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