Rangers have resources, chemistry to win it all
Ron Washington tells a story that sheds light on why the Rangers, two-time reigning American League champions, are so much more than the popular image of a marauding band of bash brothers, pounding the opposition into submission.
A players' manager of the highest order, respected for the freedoms and trust he grants his athletes, Washington has his rules and regulations.
Above all, this man, who was content teaching infielders and flashing signs from the third-base coach's station, is fastidious about fundamentals, about playing the game the right way and making no excuses. He will not compromise there.
When one of his players gets mentally lazy -- no matter the rank -- the nice-guy manager will vent. On this particular occasion, he was on his way to the offending athlete's locker after the game to hammer home a point.
"Before I got there," Washington said, "I saw Adrian [Beltre] in his face, letting him have it. I turned and went back to my office. That's what you want on your team, and that's what we have. These guys run their clubhouse. We have strong leaders on this team."
The Rangers are rawhide-tough. Balancing the voices of authority, such as Beltre and Michael Young, is the light, fun-loving touch of Elvis Andrus, who can create a party atmosphere in a heartbeat.
To sustain winning chemistry over a long season, you need that positive energy along with the physical and emotional commitment. In spite of the rueful way the 2011 season ended, the Rangers still have it. It's impossible to miss.
Supremely confident, they are destined to reach their promised land, at last, in 2012. They have the resources -- pitching, power, defense, speed -- and the mental toughness. Having achieved so much these past three seasons, the final hurdle awaits.
It's time to win the World Series.
Everyone knows how close they came last season when the Cardinals staged their comeback of the ages. Game 6 of the 2011 Fall Classic is the stuff of legend -- at the Rangers' expense. Game 7 became an extension of the implausible way Game 6 played out.
It was reminiscent of the 1986 World Series when the Mets, down to their last out in Game 6, improbably rallied, canceling a seemingly certain Red Sox championship. Boston would have to wait another 18 years.
The Rangers won't have to wait 18 months.
They'll wash away all the lingering ill effects of those two Busch Stadium nightmares with a liquid celebration in the afterglow of the franchise's first title.
It won't be easy -- there will be stressful moments and situations along the path -- but this club is built to win it all.
From club president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels down through Washington and his gifted troupe, the organization has done everything right to get to this point.
The personnel decisions have been remarkably on target, going back to the midseason Mark Teixeira trade in 2007 that yielded Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz on the current roster.
This season's main moves -- acquiring starter Yu Darvish and closer Joe Nathan via free agency and dealing for starter Ryan Dempster and catcher Geovany Soto at the non-waiver Trade Deadline -- have been vital to the team's ongoing success.
Coming from Japan, with its history of hit-and-miss with pitchers, Darvish was viewed as high risk while replacing C.J. Wilson (off to the Angels) in the rotation. Darvish, the subdued right-hander with the loud stuff and repertoire, has turned it on down the stretch, pitching brilliantly.
Dempster is a tough-minded veteran who, like Soto, was quickly integrated into the team's fabric. Both are intelligent and driven, grateful to be in a winning environment after leaving the Cubs.
While the rotation losses of Colby Lewis, who thrives in the postseason, and Feliz should not be minimized, the Rangers remain in fine shape. Four starters carry you through the postseason. Harrison, Darvish, Dempster and Derek Holland are good enough to take this team to the finish line.
The bullpen, with Nathan bringing a cool, veteran presence to the ninth inning, is top shelf. Nathan is 37-for-40 in save opportunities for a 92.5 success rate.
The setup roles are in the capable hands of Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and southpaw Robbie Ross.
Operating in a hitter-friendly park half the time, the Rangers' staff has assembled the sixth-best ERA in the league, no small achievement.
The defense is superb in some areas -- there is no better left-side infield than Beltre and Andrus -- and capable across the board. The outfield is solid, and Craig Gentry makes it better when he moves into center field. Soto joins Mike Napoli to supply savvy leadership behind the plate.
The offense rocks.
Nobody knows where potential free-agent Josh Hamilton is headed when the season ends, but he can bust open any game or series in a heartbeat. Beltre, with his will and total game, is a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate.
Nelson Cruz, with 14 homers and 27 RBIs in 33 postseason games, is Senor October. Napoli, last October's masher alongside Cruz, is finding his groove right on time after a season of struggle.
Ian Kinsler and Andrus form a dangerous top of the order, running the bases with intelligent aggression, the Washington way.
Underrated David Murphy and Mitch Moreland are tough outs, taking this lineup dangerous nine deep.
For all their visible assets, it is their heart -- their ability to rise to the challenge -- that separates the Rangers. And that is what made the last two games of 2011 and the five-game demise against the Giants in the 2010 World Series so galling.
The time has come to set things right. Washington will be looking for nobody to lecture -- or hug, in pain -- when this season ends.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.