Are the 2011 Rangers even better than the 2010 Rangers?

 In 2010 the Texas Rangers made a remarkable run to the World Series where they eventually lost to the San Francisco Giants in 5 games. It was the first ever American League Championship in team history, so obviously that team is considered the best team in team history. Yesterday the Rangers clinched the 2011 AL West division championship for the second consecutive season. This made me wonder, are the 2011 Rangers even better than they were last year?  

 Let's start with the pitching staff. No matter what anyone says there was probably no way the Rangers would have made the World Series last year without Cliff Lee. He was unstoppable, as he beat the Rays twice and the Yankees once. But the unsung hero was Colby Lewis. He won two games in the ALCS, including the game 6 clincher, and his numbers were very close to Lee's. So is this season's starting rotation better than last season's? I'd have to say they are pretty equal. C.J. Wilson is now a top pitcher in the AL, Lewis is still around, Matt Harrison seems like a totally different pitcher, and Derek Holland has been one of the best pitchers in the league since the All-Star break. Every one of the Rangers starters has at least 13 wins, and despite the record breaking heat over the summer, they don't seem to be worn down. Colby Lewis was probably a little more dependable last season, and without Cliff Lee it's tough to say that this year's starting rotation is better. But you definitely cannot say they are any worse, so I would have to say they are even.

Now for the bullpen. To me this one isn't even close. The moves that Texas made at the trade deadline substantially make this year’s bullpen much better than last years. If the Rangers' starting pitcher can go 6 innings they should be golden. There are not many teams with a more fearsome back end of the bullpen. The Rangers would probably throw Koji Uehara in the 7th, Mike Adams in the 8th, and then have Neftali Feliz close the game out. The Rangers also have Darren Oliver, Mike Gonzalez, and Mark Lowe, and all of them put up stellar seasons. So this time the advantage definitely goes to the 2011 Rangers.

Last but not least the starting lineup. It's tough to imagine a scarier lineup than the one Texas put out last season, but this season's might just beat it out. Last year’s catching duo was Matt Treanor and Bengie Molina. This year they have Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba. Mike Napoli has probably been the best hitter in all of baseball since the All Star break, and he is hitting close to .500 in the month of September.

Last year the designated hitter was Vladimir Guerrero, and this year it is Michael Young. Vlad was a key part of the Rangers last season, but he had worn down over the season and you couldn't play him in the field because he was a liability. Michael will finish top 3 in batting average, and should receive consideration for the MVP award. He can play any position in the infield, and he's the player you want at the plate with the game on the line. He is definitely the Rangers MVP.

The infield looks very similar. Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus are all still here. But the key addition to the Rangers this season plays third base, and that's Adrian Beltre. Beltre has missed 37 games due to injury, and he still has 100 RBI and could hit more than 30 home runs. Kinsler has hit 30 homers, and Moreland has definitely done his job. Elvis has come around over the past month. He's hitting more balls into the gaps, getting more walks, and he's just a better all-around hitter than he was last season.

This season's outfield is basically the same outfield that they had last season. David Murphy has done the exact same thing he did last year, and that is stepping up in September. Last season Josh Hamilton went down, Murphy stepped up. This season Nelson Cruz went to the DL, and Murphy was outstanding. He's hit near .380 and he's more than likely earned a spot in the lineup for the playoffs. Hamilton does not have the .360 average that he sported last season, but he still is batting over .300 with 25 homers and 93 RBI, and that's after missing close to 40 games. So in the end it is close, but this year's lineup is better than last season's. Despite a dip in his average, Nelson Cruz has put up similar numbers to what he did last season. He has missed games due to injury, but he still has a shot to hit 30 homers and 90 RBI.

But the strongest part of this Rangers team might be their bench. I have no idea if this will be the bench that Ron Washington will decide to go with, but it is my best guess. Last season the bench was Andres Blanco, Jeff Francoeur, Julio Borbon/David Murphy, Jorge Cantu, and Matt Treanor. That sounds like a decent bench, but they aren't as good as this season. Now they have Endy Chavez, Craig Gentry, Andres Blanco, Esteban German, and Yorvit Torrealba. Chavez has hit .300 this year in 80 games and Torrealba has hit around .275 and has been a terrific defensive catcher. But the most important man on this year’s bench is Craig Gentry. He's only hit .270 with 1 home run, (which was an inside the park home run) and 13 RBI, but it's his speed that makes him so valuable. He's stolen 18 bases this season and has yet to be caught. He's the guy that can pinch run late in games so that he can get you that extra run, and those guys are very valuable when it comes to the postseason.

 So are these Rangers better than the team that made that memorable World Series run? You better believe it. The pitching staff may not be as good at the top, but they are much more reliable from top to bottom. And with additions like Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli this year’s lineup is even more lethal than last season's. So the American League better be ready because this is no longer the young team that hasn't been here before. They're an experienced team, and they know what to expect, and the only thing that they expect is a World Series title that they believe belongs in Arlington.

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