You might recall that when the trade for Cliff Lee went down a few days before the All-Star Break last year, the common sentiment was that Lee probably wasn't necessary to help Texas reach the post-season for the first time in 11 years, that the trade was basically made with October in mind. The fact that the Rangers nailed down the division comfortably despite getting only four Lee wins in 15 regular season starts proved it out.
If you were told in camp this year that the Rangers would go into the Break with 51 wins - one more than the club had at the Break last season - and that they would finish the first half on a season-high seven-game win streak, in contrast to the demoralizing four-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles that Texas took into the Break a year ago, you probably would have felt pretty good.
Here's the difference. Last year, the Angels came off a 2-1 series win over Texas by winning only two of their remaining 10 games going into the Break (against the collectively underwhelming Royals, White Sox, and A's). This year, they're winners of a remarkable 19 of their last 25 games. Last year, Texas led the Angels by 4.5 games at the Break. This year, the lead is just one game, and the disparity between Los Angeles winning 13 of 18 in interleague play and Texas splitting its own 18 looms large.
But the Rangers are playing their best baseball of the year right now.
On this date a year ago, I sent out a terse report that listed the final scores of the four Texas-Baltimore games followed by the words: "Gimme a Break."
This year, the three-day disruption before big a trip to Seattle and Anaheim couldn't be more unwelcome, given that Texas is playing baseball right now like a team defending its American League pennant.
It's a safe bet that the Angels will add offense before the month is up and that Texas will add pitching of some sort, and that's not including Scott Feldman, who should be back when action resumes on Thursday as a member of the bullpen - a no-brainer assignment that was far from being so before Derek Holland and Matt Harrison fired a combined 16.2 scoreless innings in their final starts of the first half.
Trade activity ought to start up pretty soon, now that we're within three weeks of the trade deadline and clubs are starting necessarily to define themselves as buyers or sellers. Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggests that the Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, A's, Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, and Padres "should be no-doubt trade deadline sellers." I'd add at least Houston and Washington, and maybe Seattle. The list will only grow.
Some potential buyers might sell as well. Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated believes Atlanta could listen to offers for righthander Derek Lowe (perhaps to make payroll room for the addition of an impact bat), and he speculates that the Rangers, Yankees, and Red Sox could be interested. The Mets may think of themselves as still in the race, but it's pretty clear that New York is pushing Francisco Rodriguez, as well as fellow veteran relievers Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak.
Texas continues to be tied in the media to players like K-Rod and San Diego closer Heath Bell and set-up man Mike Adams and Florida starter Anibal Sanchez, and as well as Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome (huh?) and another dozen players, which seems like a decent time to note that this organization's trades for players like Lee and Josh Hamilton came virtually out of nowhere. I haven't seen any reports tying Texas to Cubs starter Matt Garza, whose name is starting to show up in trade rumors elsewhere, but recall that - at least according to Peter Gammons in January - the Rangers had been willing to part with Holland, Engel Beltre, Frankie Francisco, and Chris Davis (to acquire Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos, who would have been flipped to the Rays) before Tampa Bay shipped Garza to Chicago instead.
One problem, revisiting a theme we've brought up here for a couple years, is that there appears to be a relative shortage of impact players who will be available this month, but sellers will still try to hold Texas and everyone else up for their best prospects regardless. It could prevent deals from getting done.
I have a ton to discuss about the Rangers' top prospects, on several fronts, some related to all of this, but that will have to wait one more report.
For now, we have a few days to decompress - not that we really want to - and think about what the next three weeks will bring in terms of trades, and what the next three months will bring in terms of the standings. The Baseball Prospectus "Playoff Odds Report" still makes the Rangers heavy favorites in the AL West, giving Texas an 80.7 percent chance of reaching the post-season and Los Angeles only an 18.8 percent chance.
I wish Texas had another game to play tonight, a chance to extend this season-best run of wins. Instead, we have three days of nothing but one game that doesn't count, but sort of does, but not really, and while I don't get nearly as interested in the All-Star Game as I did when I was a kid, I am looking forward to seeing the American League dugout lined not only with a group of some of the game's best baseball players, but also with Ron Washington and his staff, a reminder of where this team went in 2010, a place it has itself positioned to chase again in 2011.