The 2016 regular season is over, and standing at the top of the American League heap after the 162-game marathon are the Texas Rangers.
They successfully defended their American League West title, rather easily judging by the final standings, and will have home-field advantage in the postseason for as long as they can play.
They begin their quest for the franchise’s first World Series title Thursday in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Globe Life Park. They will play the winner of Tuesday night’s wild-card game between Baltimore and Toronto.
The Rangers spent the final 125 days of the season in first place and 149 overall. Their closest West competition was the Seattle Mariners, who finished nine games back.
The Houston Astros, the team that was projected to win the West and possibly win it all, were third, a distant 11 games behind.
Yet, the Rangers’ journey to their seventh division title wasn’t as easy as it looked. Not with a rash of injuries early in the season and again through the dog days, some ragged days for the pitching staff and all those one-run and come-from-behind victories.
But here the Rangers are, still playing and doing so with the belief that they can win the World Series.
“It was not easy at all,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “It was a competitive division. Seattle and Houston gave us a hard time until the end. We didn’t expect it to be easy. But we did what we were planning to do, which is win the division.
“We’ve accomplished everything we want with the regular season. That’s just the first step to getting into the playoffs and winning 11 more games, which is the ultimate goal.”
The Rangers will play Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday at Globe Life Park against either Toronto or Baltimore. Those teams play Tuesday in the wild-card game.
Nothing that happened Sunday in the season finale sent the Rangers off their postseason course. Martin Perez allowed three runs (two earned) in three innings in his ALDS tune-up, and the Tampa Bay Rays scored twice in the 10th inning against Tanner Scheppers for a 6-4 victory.
The Rangers missed out on matching the club record for wins in a season by one, but a 95-67 record was good for the best in the AL in a season filled with adversity.
What the Rangers went through isn’t unique. All teams deal with injuries and slumps. But not all teams overcome them.
The Rangers did it with a talented core group of veterans and a talented crop of rookies, and a proactive front office and coaching staff.
Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor had career years. Beltre had his best season since 2014. Ian Desmond, Nomar Mazara, Colby Lewis and A.J. Griffin rescued the Rangers early. Jurickson Profar came through after Odor creamed Jose Bautista.
Sam Dyson solidified the closer’s role after incumbent Shawn Tolleson struggled. Matt Bush had been incarcerated seven months before making his big-league debut and later assuming a key bullpen role.
“Collectively, everybody has put something into it,” Beltre said.
He said that includes the general manager. Jon Daniels signed Desmond after spring training started, added Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy just ahead of the Aug. 1 trade deadline, and plucked Carlos Gomez off the trash heap to plug in for Shin-Soo Choo.
Choo was one of two regulars lost April 9 for extended DL stays. The Rangers played nearly two months without one of their co-staff aces, Yu Darvish. At one point, three members of the starting rotation (Darvish, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland) were on the disabled list and another (Cole Hamels) was pitching with a blister on his index finger.
95 Regular-season victories for the Rangers, who missed the 2011 club’s single-season team record of 96 wins.
But here the Rangers are.
“A lot of teams get to a point where you feel like, ‘We’re as good as we’re going to get. Let’s just throw our hats out there,’ ” Desmond said. “We’re continuing to get better. People are still communicating with the coaching staff and really just moving in the right direction.”
Desmond said a commitment was made in spring training to work hard each day and to reset after each day. There were no hangovers from bad losses, no sense of entitlement after one of eight walk-off wins or one of 36 one-run wins or one of 49 come-from-behind wins.
Never ever quit has gone from a hashtag to a way of life for the Rangers.
“We definitely have shown and we believe that we know how not to quit,” Desmond said. “We might get beat, but we’re going to give you everything we’ve got until there’s no outs left. That’s something that we’ve gotten pretty good at.”
And here the Rangers are, still playing and doing so with the belief that they can win the World Series.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys, all of them, for what they poured into the regular season,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We get an opportunity to play on. That’s what we wanted. We wanted the ability to play for a championship. We had a goal in mind to win the West to solidify our opportunity. Now, refocus, rest and be ready to play on Thursday.”
Rangers in ALDS
(vs. Toronto-Baltimore wild-card winner)
Game 1: at Texas, TBD Thursday
Game 2: at Texas, TBD Friday
Game 3: at Tor./Balt., TBD Sunday
Game 4: at Tor./Balt., TBD Oct. 10*
Game 5: at Texas, TBD Oct. 12*