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The Texas Rangers Are Winning as Weirdly as They Can

In Adrian Beltre and Nomar Mazara, the surprising Rangers have a pair of perfect avatars—one too old, one too young. For a team this weird, nothing else would do.
May 10, 2016, 1:27pm
Photo by Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When Adrian Beltre made his big league debut with the Dodgers way back in 1998—a year otherwise best remembered for the nation's renewed fascination with Bill Clinton's taste in cigars—Nomar Mazara was three years old and still living in Santo Domingo, the hometown the two share. Both men are living in Arlington these days, and they're two of the biggest reasons that this year's Texas Rangers—despite a pitching staff that, outside of Cole Hamels, is a Who's Who of Who the Hell Is That—are surprisingly, oddly, captivatingly good. We'll get to the third big reason in a moment.

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But let's start with Beltre, who is still doing Adrian Beltre things in his 19th year in the league. At 38 years old, he is triple-slashing .281/.331/.479 and, as always, playing superb defense at third base. This kind of thing simply isn't meant to happen at his age, although the fact that Beltre has been one of the best hitters on his team for seven years running does soften the implausibility a bit. Chalk one up for graybeards everywhere, and don't touch his head.

Read More: Jurickson Profar Returns From Exile

As improbably delightful as Beltre's performance is, it's Mazara who's getting the lion's share of the attention in Texas. And so he should: he is young and has the kind of swing that makes you sit back in your seat, and then lurch forward to watch it again as quickly as possible. Since making his debut on April 10, Mazara has put that beautiful swing to good use, triple-slashing an eye-opening .316/.369/.469. In a more meaningful way, though, he's provided some long-awaited catharsis to Rangers fans who are now, finally, seeing a top prospect come up and perform exactly the way they expected him to.

That hasn't always been the case in Texas. Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus were both supposed to be the Next Big Thing in Arlington well before Mazara arrived on the scene, and had similarly gorgeous swings and all-around games to justify the expectations. Neither has been able to deliver, for different reasons: Profar last played in the big leagues in 2013, and has been slowed by an unending stream of injuries; Andrus, while now a perfectly serviceable regular, is hardly the star the Rangers thought they were getting when they signed him to an eight-year, $118 million extension three years ago. Mazara is only 30 days into his first year in the bigs, and that is not enough time to redeem or rewrite recent Rangers history. But he was the American League Rookie of the Month for April, and his swing is entirely too easy to dream on.

It would be even cooler if you could hear what this photo sounded like. Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Mazara hit a booming tiebreaking home run to right-center off Toronto's Gavin Floyd to put the Rangers up by a run in the top of the eighth, and then showed off his rocket of an arm in the bottom half of the inning, smoking Michael Saunders at home plate and protecting a lead that Texas wouldn't give up. This sort of thing is happening with some regularity down there these days—Beltre, for his part, homered twice on Saturday—and even with Shin-Soo Choo still on the disabled list with a calf injury, a largely anonymous rotation, and the Seattle Mariners playing surprisingly well, the Rangers are hanging around the AL West race. More promisingly, they've shown signs that they might be able to overcome their obvious flaws—shaky relief pitching and hitting age—and make a run later in the season.

If they do, it will be in part because of the third big thing to know about the Rangers, which is this: they hit a little bit like Vladimir Guerrero in his prime. Comparing an entire team to a sure-fire Hall of Famer isn't exactly fair, and the Rangers don't hit as well, collectively or individually, as Peak Vlad, but they hit the same way—by swinging at pitches outside the zone, and then repeatedly making contact with those pitches. The rate at which Texas swings outside the zone (32 percent) is seven percent higher than the next highest AL team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; the rate at which they make contact on those pitches (66 percent) is neck and neck with those same Angels. In short, no other AL team works quite as hard to get to pitches outside the zone, nor does better when it gets to them.

Will it hold up? Maybe not. Pitches outside the zone are, unsurprisingly, shitty pitches to barrel up on, and indeed the Rangers hit fewer balls on the screws than most AL teams; their hard-hit percentage is in the bottom fourth of the league. For now, though, all the unreasonable things they're doing are working out to a reasonable degree. Mazara, with his 71 percent contact rate out of the zone, and Beltre, who is at 84 percent somehow, are a big part of the reason why. If they keep hitting the way they are, it could be a fun summer in Texas. And if they keep on playing this sort of ecstatic, bizarre, ultra-aggressive baseball even as they regress toward the mean—well, that sounds pretty fun, too.