It is time to take these guys quite seriously.

Most of the numbers say we probably shouldn’t. Their run differential says they should be well under .500. Their offense is not entirely intimidating and could be seen as a liability. Their overall pitching is about the worst in Major League Baseball, and their rotation has not been much better.

Based on all of that, this is a club that should be falling back for a top draft position: not holding onto a playoff position.

That is exactly what the Texas Rangers are doing, though. With less than 40 games to play, they are in sole possession of the second wild-card spot, having won nine of their last 11 games while stunning the baseball world a season after losing 95 games and their ace in spring training. 

For the Rangers, this is no longer about what they can do next year. This is about becoming legitimate World Series contenders in a season that they were once eight games under .500.

“We definitely believe in that,” designated hitter Prince Fielder told Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News on Saturday. “We’re trying to stay focused and not let it get away from us.”

When the Rangers pulled off the blockbuster trade deadline deal for Cole Hamels last month, they finished that day 50-52 and three games out of the second wild-card spot, with four teams ahead of them. For those reasons, the trade for Hamels was seen as an aggressive move to become contenders in 2016 when they could pair him with Yu Darvish, their incumbent ace who had Tommy John surgery in March.

Since firing a no-hitter in his last start with the Philadelphia Phillies, Hamels had not been much of an ace for the Rangers in his first three starts—12 earned runs in 20.2 innings for a 5.23 ERA to go with a 1.45 WHIP. He was solid on Sunday, giving the Rangers six innings of two-run ball to get his first win with the team.

While Hamels has yet to look great with Texas aside from giving them plenty of innings, he is still one of the game’s aces. Because of that, he gives the Rangers a serious chance to win a one-game wild-card matchup against anybody the team might face.

His trade might have been viewed publicly as a move for next season, but given the team’s surge, he is now very much part of the team’s hope to reach the postseason and advance.

The Rangers staff has been brutally ineffective for most of the season. Entering Sunday, their 6.2 Fangraphs WAR is 13th in the American League, as was their 4.39 ERA. The rotation’s 6.0 WAR is also 14th, its ERA (4.34) is 13th and its Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) (4.45) is dead last. It also strikes out just 6.01 hitters per nine innings, the second-lowest mark in the league.

Obviously, Hamels taking the ball in a must-win kind of game is a huge boost.

“No matter what kind of condition I have or what I’m going through, I have to be able to go out there and put up zeros on the board,” Hamels told reporters last week. “The expectations that I have are to be able to burn innings, make quality pitches and work quick enough so the defense is able to stay in the game and make great plays.” 

The offense, which has picked up a tick during this hot stretch, also has been disappointing. Its overall Fangraphs offensive mark was minus-21.2 through Saturday, and it ranked 13th in the league in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) while being about middle-of-the-pack in several other categories like OBP, OPS and Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA).

Shin-Soo Choo, who has been a disappointment since signing with the Rangers before last season, has been one of their hotter hitters lately with a 147 wRC+ over his previous 13 games going into Sunday. And with Fielder having a strong season, even with his power numbers a bit down, along with Mitch Moreland and Rougned Odor being well above league average offensively, they give the Rangers a lineup capable of supporting a playoff push down the stretch. 

Also, power-hitting prospect Joey Gallo could be called up and be eligible for the postseason roster, giving the team another power threat in the final month, and possibly in the playoffs.

These Rangers might not look like a playoff team, or even a legitimate threat to contend, on the data sheets. They don’t pitch well, they are just an OK hitting team in a hitter-friendly yard and their newly acquired No. 1 starter has yet to be dominant for them.

But they are winning, and doing it often enough that a postseason berth could be only about a month away if they don’t slump. The Rangers’ current position might be surprising, but if they end up in the playoffs, making some noise should not surprise anyone considering the pieces they possess.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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