Monday morning, May 18. I find that I am having trouble concentrating on work, and all I can focus on this morning is the Rangers. I itch for any updates on Inside Corner and I waited anxiously for Adam's morning links (since I'm too lazy to just go and search myself). I usually try to find time to listen to The Ticket online, but this morning I really wanted to hear Norm's thoughts. I also, for the first time EVER, listened to the Sirius MLB channel on the way to work, and was pleasantly surprised that the Rangers sweeping the Angels was one of their top stories.
We've had moments like these past few years, where the Rangers reel off a great run over a month or so, have the "best record in MLB since fill-in-the-date", and the question becomes if they can keep up that pace to overcome a horrific start to the season and catch up to one of the Wild Card teams. Inevitably, the team flounders down the stretch and we're left to start all over again in the offseason. This year the Rangers are off to one of the best starts in franchise history and the everyday Rangers fan is excited but still has the thought in the back of their mind: "It's great now, but when will it all come crashing back down to Earth?"
That may have been the story in the past, but this time it just feels different.
There is an indescribable aura about this team right now; a positive vibe that starts in the clubhouse, finds its way onto the field and in turn infects the Rangers fanbase. It's not just the winning that has the city buzzing about it's baseball team, we've gone through great stretches before, rather it's the sheer joy and the fun this team has on the field. The team is made up of guys that want nothing more than to win, not only for the accolades but because they don't want to let down the guy they're playing next to.
It's tough for a manager or coach to get an entire team to buy into his system and to play their hearts out for him. There are many motivations a professional sports player can have, and winning for the love of their coach is one that is usually way, way down the line. A successful team is one that will blindly follow it's coaches decisions, not only knowing it's for the good of the team but also having the faith that their choices are the right ones, no matter if they work out or not. It's when a team starts to question it's coaches that things start to go really wrong (see: 2008 Dallas Cowboys).
Yet a Championship team is built around players that play for each other. You fight to win in order not to disappoint the teammate playing next to you. You desire to perform at a higher level because you don't want to let down those around you that are doing better and better. You don't want to be the one guy holding everyone back. It becomes a cycle of each player feeding off each other, demanding hard work and dedication from everyone on the team.
We've seen it with the pitching. Mike Maddux came to this team and, backed by Nolan Ryan, completely changed the complexion of the Rangers pitching staff. Pretty much the same guys as last season, but with wholly different results. The season started with a bang: Kevin Millwood pitches an absolute gem in the season opener in front of the home crowd and since then, each pitcher has dared the others to do better. The result: the top ERA in the league in the month of May.
While the offense hasn't clipped at the same rate that we've been used to over the years, I feel much more confident in it's ability to still produce runs when the overwhelming power isn't there. The past two games the Rangers won with smart situational hitting, excellent baserunning and with patience.
And I think the effect of the improved defense has been efficiently covered at this point.
As we've found out in the past, one great aspect of the game of baseball is not enough to sustain a successful season. At some point you must find a way for all three major levels of team play to perform at a high level, and they all feed off each other. The pitchers are more confident because of the defense, the team has confidence in the bats, the bats have confidence in the pitchers to give them a chance.
No longer does this team need to score 7-9 runs each game in order to have a chance to win. However, you know that if 10 runs are needed to win this team has that capability.
All of it comes from the attitude in the clubhouse, made all the more better because of the winning. And the winning makes the atmosphere better. It's all part of a long-term winning formula. I'm not the most knowledgeable of baseball fans, but I am able to see when a team has a good thing going. I've seen it with the Dallas Stars, and how a strong nucleus of leadership can carry a team through the ups and downs of a long season. And while these Texas Rangers are off to such a big start, there is still a good chance for the good times to end before it's all over.
But this team, this season.....it just feels different.