What Are the Texas Rangers Doing in the American League Wild Card Race?

The Rangers lost 95 games last year and seemed on track for another gruesome season. Yet through some stroke of baseball magic (and luck), they're still kicking.

by Matthew Kory
Aug 21 2015, 6:25pm

Photo by Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you just are sure. You just know that those eggs taste awful and eww, they have hair in them, you can see it, ugh, it's really long and sorry, that is gross. It is a certainty deeper than any sort of intellectual calculation. But sometimes you just know something, you are utterly certain of it, and you turn out to be wrong.

Take the 2015 Texas Rangers. When the season began, Baseball Prospectus gave them a 16 percent chance to make the playoffs and a six percent chance to win the AL West. Those are some hairy eggs. But Texas's chances were as high as 24% this week—not exactly a huge uptick, but a marked improvement—and they are just one and a half games out of a Wild Card. It's all real.

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Last season, the Rangers finished 67-95. They were terrible. New acquisition Prince Fielder, signed through the next ice age, was horrendous and then hurt. Super ace Yu Darvish got hurt and required Tommy John surgery, forcing him to sit out the entire 2015 season.

There's more, but it doesn't really matter. I could go on about the bad defense, the terrible rotation even with Darvish, and the offense that looked like it was depending on a rotund, injured hitter to center a lineup of under-performing kids and Adrian Beltre, but why bother? There were more injuries to young star Jurickson Profar and best-pitcher-after-Darvish Derek Holland, and that's about when most baseball pundits stood up, pushed away this plate of hair-festooned eggs, wiped their hands on their Dockers, and stalked off to the bathroom to make sure they didn't accidentally wipe catsup into the pleats. A 16 percent chance at the playoffs for that team sounds almost generous.

Yet the Rangers were not and are not that bad. Fielder has had his own little renaissance in Dallas, hitting .325 with a .391 on-base percentage. Keep in mind this is a guy who played in just 42 games last year and whose slugging percentage was identical to his on-base percentage when he did. Fielder isn't quite hitting for the power that was hoped for—although a .490 slugging percentage with 17 homers will play—and his fielding is amusingly atrocious, but he's second to Cleveland's Jason Kipnis in the race for the AL batting title. The Rangers needed this from him—or at least from someone—and Fielder has delivered.

What part of splashing Adrian Beltre with water seems like a good idea to you, Elvis Andrus? Photo by Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

More surprising, the Rangers have improved on the mound. A healthy Derek Holland should help, and a trade for former Phillies ace Cole Hamels should pay off this year and beyond. Holland won his first game back on Wednesday. So far Hamels hasn't pitched well in a Ranger uniform. Concerns that he might be hurt aren't unfounded—he has just missed a start—but a healthy Hamels is a massive improvement on most any living pitcher, and would improve the Rangers rotation accordingly. We're talking about a team with a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs. If Hamels is hurt, well, hell, they probably weren't going to make it this year anyway.

The Rangers front office has been hard at work adding other pieces to the roster in hopes of sneaking into the playoffs anyway. Last week, they acquired first baseman Mike Napoli, and this week it was outfielder Will Venable; they'll platoon and strengthen the bench. These are the moves a contending team makes at the deadline, which is bizarre because this Rangers team, by all indicators and despite its presence in the race, is actually not very good. Their runs scored and allowed totals tells us that they've got not enough of the former and too much of the latter to have a record this good. Baseball Prospectus's Adjusted Standings have the Rangers as a true talent 56-64 team, not the 61-59 they currently are.

Of course, the Rangers team that compiled that record had an underperforming Adrian Beltre, no Derek Holland or Cole Hamels, and a young Rougned Odor figuring things out on the job at second base. Now they have a healthy Holland, Beltre is back to his old tricks (just don't touch his head), Hamels is here, and Odor, at 21 years old, is looking like one of the rising stars in the game.

The world counted out the Rangers. Baseball counted out the Rangers. I counted out the Rangers and so, probably, did you. Honestly, none of us were wrong. They were terrible and hurt and hurt and so hurt are you serious good gosh! The odds are still against them, at least this year, but either way a season that seemed lost before it even started has been reborn. Might as well eat up.