x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Rangers want to be players in the post-season

The Texas club is looking for first play-offs success after adding Lee, Molina, Cantu and Guzman in frenzy of activity ahead of trade deadline.

The Rangers transformed themselves by adding Cy Young winner Cliff Lee in early July.
The Rangers transformed themselves by adding Cy Young winner Cliff Lee in early July.

The Texas Rangers are afflicted by a history of futility that rivals that of any baseball franchise not named "the Chicago Cubs". The Rangers have a chance to change that, and they are not letting the opportunity pass. As baseball's July 31 no-waiver trade deadline came and went, it was the Rangers who made the biggest moves to improve themselves, outstripping even the New York Yankees. The Rangers traded for Cliff Lee, the left-handed pitcher, Bengie Molina, the catcher, and the infielders Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman to plug holes as well as provide depth in veteran talent. They now seem positioned to accomplish what no team in the 50-year history of the franchise has done: win a play-off series. Neither the Rangers nor their 1961/71 antecedents, the expansion version of the Washington Senators, have won a World Series. They are one of only three MLB teams who have never even played in one, and they are one of only two never to have won a play-off series. Even the benighted Cubs have won a World Series, albeit in 1908. Texas rose to the top of the American League West this season on the strength of heavy hitting by the likes of Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz.

The Rangers rank third in baseball in scoring, behind only the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, and that is why they lead their division by nearly 10 games. Their pitching, however, seemed thin, with the competent but largely unproven CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter gathered around the fragile Rich Harden, the putative ace. It seemed unlikely any combination of those three pitchers could hope to match-up in the play-offs with the top three pitchers from their potential opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox or the Yankees. The Rangers transformed themselves by adding Lee, a Cy Young Award winner and proven play-off performer the past two seasons. The Yankees, the club that dismissed the Rangers in Texas's only three forays into the play-offs (1996, 1998, 1999), thought they had a deal to obtain Lee from the Seattle Mariners.

But it was the Rangers who slipped in at the last moment and spirited away Lee in a trade that centred around Justin Smoak, the young first baseman who may be a star someday but probably will not. Molina is a power-hitting catcher who fills what had been the one weak spot in the lineup. Cantu and Guzman give the Rangers the flexibility to survive injuries to Ian Kinsler, the star second baseman. As surprising as all the bold moves: that the Rangers added more than US$6 million (Dh22m) to their payroll while still in bankruptcy proceedings. "They've got the lead in the division and a No 1 starter," a National League official told ESPN.com after the Lee trade. "That's pretty good for a team in bankruptcy." Lee gives the Rangers real hope that they can become a bigger October story in Dallas than the Cowboys. At least for a few weeks. poberjuerge@thenational.ae