08/09/10 10:00 AM ET
It can't get hot enough for Rangers
AL West leaders have no intention of wilting under Texas sun
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
It's time to separate myth from reality.
Take a look at the top of the AL West standings. That's where you'll find the Rangers, and it's a long way down to their pursuers -- they lead by 7 1/2 games over the A's and nine games over the three-time defending champion Angels after the weekend, by far the largest lead enjoyed by any division leader at this juncture.
But wait, it's August, and with the summer heat beating down on the Texas landscape, the theory often has been advanced that the Rangers are somehow at a disadvantage, playing home games at the baseball venue most associated with the term "heat index."
Isn't this Kryptonite Month for the Rangers? Shouldn't they be preparing for postgame ice baths and getting the pitching reinforcements ready for a 15-man staff? Aren't their helmets melting in the Texas sun yet?
Veteran third baseman Michael Young, who has been with the Rangers for each of the 10 consecutive years they've missed the playoffs, has heard the rumblings about August and September before, probably more than he'd like, and he's not having it.
"First of all, it's ridiculous," says Young. "I have no idea where that comes from. It certainly doesn't come from any of us. No one in here has ever thought that, or used it as an excuse. I have no idea why people say that."
Call it an urban legend, or call it a meteorological assumption, but August and September always seem to enter the conversation when it comes to the Rangers. This 2010 squad is prepared to leave that conversation in the past.
How? By playing each game the same way its been playing each one all year -- like it's the only one that matters, like it could be played in Siberia or the Sahara, like they could be playing a team of well-trained monkeys or, say, the Yankees and the Red Sox.
They bring in those two gorillas of the AL East for a two-game set with the defending World Series champions and three games over the weekend against the bruised but still battling Red Sox. After that comes a trip to Tampa Bay for another August test against another playoff contender.
But, then, this team really doesn't look at any matchup as some sort of test, or a way to prove itself.
"I'm sure quite a few people might think this [Yankees] series is making some kind of statement for us," manager Ron Washington said. "Our plan is to just stay with what we are, right here. If we play our game, it doesn't matter if it's the Yankees, or who it is. They play their game, we play our game and we'll be fine."
And, now, the weather: Afternoon high temperatures are expected to be around 100 degrees every day this week in Arlington, with game-time temps all the way down to the high 90s at night.
That'll wilt you. Or it could. But, then, both teams have to play, right?
Really, the evidence doesn't support the myth that when the calendar flips to August, the Rangers start to fade. They were a non-disastrous 14-15 in August last year, losing just two games in the standings to the Angels, who got hot down the stretch to pull away. The last time the Rangers were really in the hunt was in 2004, and they went 16-12 in August that year, including 11-5 at home. Each of their division-title seasons included solid August marks -- 18-12 in '99, 16-13 in '98 and 16-12 in '96 -- but then those were quite a while ago.
Something says the 2010 Rangers can stand the heat, regardless. Actually, almost everything does: This is a complete team -- not perfect, but certainly capable of handling the, ahem, heat of a division race, especially with the pitching depth it now possesses.
It's not just Young's determination permeating through the clubhouse, which it does. It's not just the fact that Cliff Lee makes the pitching staff much more than one man better, which he does. It's not just that Vladimir Guerrero provides a powerful presence that only can boost a lineup that already boasted Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. It's not just Neftali Feliz on his way to a rookie saves record. It's all of the above.
They need to keep doing it, of course. The hitters need to continue to hit, and Lee, C.J. Wilson and Co. need to continue to put up the quality innings as starters. And Vlad can't fade now, not after how he's become such a powerful influence on this club.
"We're very happy with the guys that we have here," Young said. "Having said that, there's a ton of work that has to be done. One thing this team's never going to be guilty of is getting ahead of itself.
"I think we're aware of where we're at in the standings. But the last thing we're going to do is focus on that. We still have a way to go before we can think about those things. We're not going to be complacent or content with where we are. That's just not the way this team's wired."
This team might be more wired to go wire to wire, or almost. They've been in first place all but six days since May 1, and have held the lead while building it nearly to a franchise high since June 8.
Heat? Bring it, in all forms.
"If we're not able to hold on to this lead, it won't be because of [the] heat in Texas," Washington said. "It'd be because we just didn't get the job done."
That doesn't seem likely. The Rangers have an ace with postseason experience, they have a veteran slugger in the middle of the lineup, they have a rookie closer who's quickly become among the best in the game.
Maybe they even have what it takes to dispel the myth that the playoff chase is hotter and somehow more difficult in Texas.
"There are a lot of things they say about Texas," said Washington, heading into the stretch run of his fourth season with the Rangers. "They say we can't pitch. They say we can't field. They say all we can do is hit. Well, stay tuned."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.