Of all the 2010 AL playoff teams, the Texas Rangers finished with the worst record. But that didn’t mean that they were the worst team. During the six months of the regular season plenty changes. For the Rangers it felt like everything changed. It was those mid-season tweaks that made them better than their record indicated. For the past three weeks they’ve been the best team in the AL.
Here is the starting lineup the Rangers sent to the field on Opening Day:
1. Julio Borbon, CF
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, LF
4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Chris Davis, 1B
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8. Andres Blanco, 2B
9. Elvis Andrus, SS
The only out of place player is Blanco, who was subbing for the injured Ian Kinsler.
The pitching staff, too, was quite different. Do you know who started Opening Day? Scott Feldman. You might remember him, though I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, for his solid 2009 season, in which he went 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA. His peripherals were a bit worse; it’s unlikely that a player who doesn’t strike out many and still walks around the league average rate will sustain that type of performance. The crew behind him wasn’t that impressive, either.
1. Scott Feldman
2. Rich Harden
3. C.J. Wilson
4. Colby Lewis
5. Matt Harrison
During the course of the season the Rangers made the necessary improvements to the club. Borbon started off poorly before picking it up, but by July it was clear that the Murphy-Hamilton-Cruz outfield was optimal. In fact, had it not been for Cruz’s two DL stints and Hamilton’s missed September, Borbon probably wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the 468 PA that he did. Kinsler eventually came back and replaced Blanco. Saltalamacchia and his fellow backstop Taylor Teagarden were eventually optioned, opening the door for Matt Treanor and, eventually, Bengie Molina. Davis was horrible, which led to Justin Smoak, which eventually led to Mitch Moreland.
The pitching staff, of course, received the biggest makeover. Three of the five Opening Day starters didn’t make it to season’s end. This happens to plenty of teams, but rarely to a playoff team. Yet the Rangers upgraded where needed. It helped that Wilson and Lewis had better than expected years. Tommy Hunter returned from the DL and provided quality innings. And, of course, the Cliff Lee trade reshaped everything. To that point Wilson was the ace of the staff. Putting Cliff Lee at the top made the rotation that much deeper.
What killed the Yankees was the Rangers’ mid-season acquisitions. Lee is the obvious culprit here, as he pitched well enough to win Game 3 on his own. Molina also provided destruction of his own. We’ll remember him because of his dream-crushing three-run homer in Game 4, reminiscent of his dream-crushing homers of playoffs past. But for the series he went 5 for 16 with a double in addition to that homer. His counterpart, Matt Treanor, who didn’t join the club until the second week of the season, went 2 for 6 with a homer and a walk.
The regular season can tell you plenty of things. It lets you know which team performed best over the long haul. It tells you which teams were built to last. It makes clear which teams have strengths that can mask weaknesses. What it doesn’t tell you is which teams have changed and to what degree they did. It doesn’t tell you, at least not explicitly, that the Rangers suffered because they got off to a slow start and then limped to the finish because they were assured a playoff spot by the beginning of September. The Rangers were better than their record indicated, and their in-season changes were a big part of that.