Published November 20, 2014
The Texas Rangers are sending a clear message to anyone wondering how they would recover from that crushing World Series loss.
There is no hangover effect from being so agonizingly close to winning it all.
The Rangers (15-4) entered Thursday's off day with the best record in the majors. The two-time defending American League champions have won their first six series in a season for the first time in franchise history. They lead the majors in hitting, with a .295 average and 31 home runs, and have one of the top pitching staffs as well.
"It tells you that they've put the World Series behind them and they're dealing with this season, and they feel like that they're as good as any team in baseball," team president Nolan Ryan said. "And I think they want to prove that."
Only six months ago, the Rangers were twice within a strike of a World Series-clinching victory before losing Game 6 in extra innings at St. Louis. They jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of Game 7 before losing that game as well.
"Yeah, it hurt at the time. Of course it did," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "But it has no bearing on the games we're playing now. We all love to compete and we want to win as many games as possible."
At their current pace, they would win 128 games this season.
While it's highly unlikely they will reach that total, the fast start reinforces what the Rangers consistently said throughout the offseason and during spring training. They are focused on 2012 and trying to get to the World Series again, not what happened last October.
"We're a confident group. We go out to win every day, we kind of expect to go out there to win and play a good game on defense, offense and get good pitching," catcher Mike Napoli said. "We're playing good team baseball right now. We're playing how we want to play. We expect to play good, so I don't think it's surprising that we're having a good start. But we're glad we're off to this start."
Texas already leads Oakland and Seattle by 5½ games in the AL West. The Los Angeles Angels, one of the preseason favorites, are off to a rough start and are nine back.
"It's good to see the guys with the same mentality and attitude that they had last year," said Rangers star Josh Hamilton, who is hitting .390 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs.
Manager Ron Washington is basically using the same everyday lineup he did last season, since the top-hitting team is unchanged.
"We have a good understanding of what we expect out of each other," said Kinsler, the leadoff hitter whose new $75 million, five-year contract through 2017 makes him one of league's top-paid second basemen.
After a career-best 30 homers last season, Napoli already has seven this year. Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger in his 12th season, is hitting .356.
The Rangers have scored a majors-best 107 runs, more than twice as many the AL-low 52 runs they have allowed. That means they're outscoring teams by an average of nearly three runs a game.
They're the only team this season that hasn't lost consecutive games — the only time they have since losing three in a row against Boston last August were those final two World Series games. They have won a franchise-record 12 consecutive regular-season series, dating to last season.
C.J. Wilson, who signed with the Angels in the offseason, has been replaced in the starting rotation by Yu Darvish (3-0, 2.42 ERA), who has gotten better in each of his four starts. The Japanese standout, the Rangers' big offseason acquisition, struck out 10 in 8 1-3 scoreless innings against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night.
Matt Harrison (3-0, 1.66 ERA) and Colby Lewis (2-0, 2.03 ERA) are off to solid starts. Derek Holland (2-1), the 25-year-old left-hander who got a new five-year contract during the offseason, has a team-high 4.78 ERA only because of one rough outing against the Yankees.
The Rangers' 2.62 ERA is the AL's best. Only one other time have they gotten this far in a season with that number so low, back in 1983.
Joe Nathan, their new closer who came from Minnesota, has five saves and bounced back from two early losses. Rookie Robbie Ross (4-0), the only lefty in the bullpen though he wasn't even really in the team's plans before his impressive spring, was tied for the major league lead in victories. He is first pitcher in the majors since at least 1918 to earn four relief wins in his first six career appearances.
Along with the hitting and pitching, the Rangers have made only seven errors. Shortstop Elvis Andrus has been flawless in his 82 fielding chances, and has gone 51 games without an error.
"We're playing good baseball. ... We're just playing complete baseball," Washington said. "Our mindset is let's try to play the best game we possibly can that day, try to do the things the game asks us to do, and you find out that you'll have more fun than that. And we're having fun."