Texas Rangers leading despite several missing pieces

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Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland throws a pitch.
A more serious Derek Holland is delivering the goods in 2013. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

On March 30, 2013, ESPN asked 43 analysts to predict how each division would shake out, who would win each wild card spot, who would win each respective league, and the eventual World Series champion. Of those 43 analysts, only five picked the Texas Rangers to win the AL West division. The rest were split between the Oakland A’s and, of course, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with their shiny new toy in outfielder Josh Hamilton.

Who were those five ESPN thinkers who wrote down the Texas Rangers on their prediction cards? Buster Olney? Nope. Jerry Crasnick? No. Tim Kurkjian? Not him either. One of them had to be the bright mind of Eric Karabell, right? You’re still ice cold. What about the guy who covers the Rangers for ESPN Dallas, Richard Durrett? No, he went with the Angels as well.

The five who picked Texas were Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs and former big leaguers Mark Mulder and Alex Cora.

With every loss, it makes me wonder what people saw in the Angels. Sure they have the aforementioned Josh Hamilton hitting behind guys like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and in front of Mark Trumbo, but their rotation and bullpen was shaky at best and has gotten worse with the injury to Jered Weaver. Isn’t this about the best rotations and the best bullpen? Score as many runs as you want, but if your bullpen can’t hold a lead, why are you picking them to win anything?

Did they really expect three guys to carry this team for a full season?

Why did so many doubt what this Texas Rangers team would do? Were there that many questions about what they were capable of doing?

I admit I don’t know anyone who thought Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch would be able to stem the tide with Matt Harrison going down for what now seems like the majority of the season. While Tepesch struggled against the Chicago Cubs on Monday night, which began after giving up a two-run single to former Ranger pitcher Scott Feldman, he’s performed admirably to this point.

When Hamilton departed for Southern California, Mike Napoli departed for Boston and Michael Young was traded to Philadelphia, , this team looked like a shell of its former self offensively. Except for one thing: Championships aren’t won by the team with the better offense — and the Rangers are a perfect example of that after losing back-to-back shots at the top title in baseball.

What has changed is the performance of left-hander Derek Holland (seemingly able to channel the dominate side everyone has been waiting for with the help of new catcher A.J. Pierzynski), the veteran bat of Lance Berkman, formerly known as the thorn in the side of the team he now plays for, and a quick start for Nelson Cruz, who could be well on his way to his first 30-home-run season since 2009 if he keeps up this pace.

Also, keep in mind that Texas holds a two and a half game lead over the Oakland Athletics without Colby Lewis, their rotation bulldog (of sorts), who is about to begin a rehab assignment alongside young left-hander Martin Perez; without Harrison, an 18-game winner last season, who could be lost until August after undergoing a second back operation; without Joakim Soria, a new addition formerly with the Kansas City Royals and a guy who gives Texas another lockdown reliever for manager Ron Washington to go to with the game on the line; with Adrian Beltre hitting .217 with runners on base and even worse with runners in scoring position (.154); without Neftali Feliz, the former closer; and with Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Ortiz asked to hold the line in front of current closer Joe Nathan.

Oh, and let’s not forget not having the home run or RBI numbers from Hamilton and Napoli, as well as the leadership and consistency of Young – even though he had a down year in 2012.

If you experts were told all of this would be happening to the Texas Rangers with a month of the season already gone, I’m not sure anyone would have had Texas ahead of the Seattle Mariners.

The experts can pick who they want, and they can stick with it, but take all the information I just gave you and look at the standings again. Unless the Texas Rangers fall flat on their faces, they could run away from the pack and make this race look like it was never a race in the first place. They may not have the sexiest offense, but their pitching has proven it can make any one-run lead a foregone conclusion.

Get Lewis, Soria, Feliz Perez and, possibly, Harrison back and watch what this team can do. It’s a two and a half game lead right now, what will it be a month from now?

The answer is up to the Texas Rangers.

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