Among all professional athletes, none are more superstitious than baseball players. (This is a good article on baseball superstitions.) And I think the same is true of baseball fans. It's certainly true of me. I have not mentioned my favorite baseball team yet this season in the blog--at least as far as I can remember. I definitely remember talking about them several times last year. But I'm reluctant to say anything about them this year lest I break the spell the team seems to be under. I.e., the Texas Rangers are one of the best teams in the American League this year. And the fact that the mainstream press is beginning to notice them makes me nervous. It could jinx us big time.
What's happened to this team this year? What's gotten into them? It's a different year, and not for reasons that most knowledgeable baseball fans would think, that the team is scoring gobs of runs. That would be the usual description of the Rangers, a team that has no trouble scoring runs. It's been true of them for years. But coupled with this ability to score was an equally predictable quality: terrible, awful pitching. And this was usually coupled with defense that seldom rose above the level of average and was frequently mediocre. This is not the recipe for a winning team. Indeed, the Rangers have had only one winning season in ten years. If the adage that better pitching is always preferable to better hitting is true--and of course it is--the 2009 Rangers are Exhibit A.
Unbelievably, for long-time Ranger fans, the pitching staff--all of it, starters, bullpen, and closers--is what is carrying the team. Ranger pitching is third best in the league. Texas has one starter (Kevin Millwood) in the top ten in ERA in the league. He and Doug Feldman both have ERAs under 4.00. The rotation that will take the team through the rest of the year has a couple of great young starters in the 4 and 5 slots: Tommy Hunter and Justin Nippert. Hunter has an ERA of 2.26 in 9 starts; Nippert has 3.52 in 6 starts. Wow. This is awesome. (And then there's Neftali Feliz.)
The Rangers just took two games out of three from the mighty Boston Red Sox to inch a half ahead in the wild card chase in the American League. Of course, I spurn the idea of the wild card on principle. I want the Rangers to win their division outright, a task proving extraordinarily difficult with the Los Angeles Angels playing lights out ever since the All-Star break. But this team can do it. I'm very quietly getting very excited.
Update 1: The Rangers blew a 5-run lead on Tuesday evening, August 18. The bullpen blew up.
Update 2: The Rangers blew a 4-run lead on Wednesday evening, August 19. Do you see why there are superstitions in baseball? I should have never made this original blog entry.