When the Texas Rangers pulled off a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline, it left some observers scratching their heads. On that date, Texas was 50-52, seven games behind the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West and fielding a makeshift rotation that was without ace Yu Darvish (Tommy John surgery) and Derek Holland (who hadn't yet recovered fully from his own injury).

Since that date, however, Texas has completely flipped the script. They've gone 33-17 since July 31 and head into play Friday with a three and a half game lead on the Astros with just over a week left in the regular season. They've transformed themselves from a team sorely missing its ace to a team with a new ace and a versatile complement of veterans and talented young players.

So...did losing Darvish for the entire year actually 'help' the Rangers' fortunes this season?

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The Hamels trade is paying off just as GM Jon Daniels could have hoped for, and it's given the Rangers a bona fide No. 1 starter they can basically rely on for a strong outing each time he's on the mound. After tossing six more quality innings on Thursday in the Rangers' win over the Oakland Athletics, Hamels is 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in his last eight starts with Texas. Overall, he's 5-1 in his nine starts as a Ranger.

The Rangers' success after picking up Hamels begs the question: Would the trade have happened if Darvish hadn't been lost for the season before it even began? It's hard to say, really, considering Daniels pulled the trigger on the deal while the Rangers weren't playing anywhere near the clip they have over the past few weeks.

Alternate realities aside, what matters is that the trade DID happen, and those critical of the trade when it happened have since probably eaten their fair share of crow, so to speak. Barring a monumental collapse in the final week, the Rangers will head into the ALDS with Hamels ready to pitch Game 1 and, if it gets there, a Game 5.

There's an added benefit of picking up Hamels, too: No matter what happens this season he's under team control through 2019 thanks to the lofty contract extension he signed with Philadelphia. That hefty contract -- and its subsequent no-trade clause -- prevented many teams from being able to realistically put together a trade package that would convince then-GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and the Phillies to let go of one of their cornerstone players. But the Rangers were able to get it done, at the cost of Matt Harrison, Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff.

Texas suffered through a disastrous, injury-ruined 2014 season and began 2015 on a sour note once Darvish went down. However, Prince Fielder has managed to stay healthy after a lost 2014, Adrian Beltre is fighting through various nicks and bruises and Hamels has been an anchor upon which first-year manager Jeff Banister can rely.

So far, it's working very well and could only get better as the Rangers slug and pitch their way toward October.