Eleven? Yeah, eleven. These are, by and large, opposing teams with true-talent winning percentages somewhere in the .400-.450 range that the Rangers are lining up and picking off with deadly efficiency, but they're still major league teams -- teams that have given Texas periodic fits over the years. I guess what I'm saying is, don't take eleven for granted, because the odds lean towards some number of years elapsing before we see a run like this again.
With the already-growing-old refrain of "eleven" ringing around in our heads, naturally our eyes persist in wandering down the road and towards the division crown and beyond (and, of course, towards the trade market, which seems to be a point of discussion at a remarkably early date this year), but some aren't quite sold on the "beyond" part. One of the ideas that has proliferated over the last month or two is that Texas, by virtue of ostensibly not matching up well with Boston or New York or Tampa Bay in a short playoff series (and thus, in the eyes of some, not being a legitimate World Series-contending ballclub yet), should stand pat and reserve the trade ammo for a later date.
Of course, windows of contention do not remain wide open -- or even slightly ajar -- indefinitely, nor do things always work out the way you envision; a few high-profile prospect busts and some major league regression here and there and you can conceivably find yourself cast back into .500-level territory rather quickly. One of the simpler counterarguments would boil down to "take your shot now, because you don't know if/when you'll get another shot." But for the sake of further discussion, let's take this first argument at face value and ask the operative question(s): "As presently constituted, can the Rangers contend for a World Series? If not, what do they need to do to get there?"
Long-time readers of Baseball Time in Arlington will no doubt recall what I'm about to reference, but many others won't, so let me familiarize those who aren't up to speed on the "secret sauce" concept. Four years ago, former Baseball Prospectus managing partner Nate Silver went about determining -- and articulating -- which specific characteristics of playoff teams correlate with post-season success, and found only three such characteristics: (a) a power pitching staff, as measured by normalized strikeout rate, (b) a good closer, as measured by WXRL (BP's version of relief wins above replacement), and (c) a good defense, which can be somewhat reliably be measured in this day and age with one of the now-freely available play-by-play-based defensive metrics.
As Silver stated: "Of the dozens of team characteristics that we tested for statistical significance, in terms of their relationship with winning post-season games and series, these were the only three that mattered." Not surprisingly, all three are somehow interwoven with run prevention, which assumes heightened importance in a post-season context. And, interestingly enough, the Rangers have posted a top-five "secret sauce" score in all of baseball, which would seem to contradict the notion that the Rangers are not equipped to compete in the post-season:
[Teams No. 1 and 2 were the Giants (8) and Padres (10), respectively. I ditched BP's fielding runs above average (FRAA) metric for a hybrid of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and the plus/minus (+/-) defensive rating systems, which I felt better reflected team defensive talent levels. 'Score' is simply the summation of all three rankings, a method employed by BP on its own "secret sauce" page.]
Considering the current plight of the Rangers' back-end rotation options (neither Rich Harden nor Derek Holland will be available until after the All-Star break, and the only thing the former has going for him is that he wields higher upside than similarly undesirable starters Matt Harrison and Dustin Nippert), you'd have a difficult time protesting the idea that Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee would help propel Texas closer to the top; granted, neither is really a traditional power strikeout pitcher, but they're both posting their highest strikeout -- and swinging strikeout -- rates since the mid-00s, and would both represent upgrades over the status quo in that regard.
We can argue about the merits and flaws of differently composed hypothetical prospect packages for the Lee/Oswalt tandem all day long and end up right back where we started; some would call that one of the more annoying aspects of the trade deadline, but I find it all rather entertaining in its own way. What I'm not sure can be so easily argued is that the Rangers are assured of a one-and-done appearance, provided they persevere into October. Between that strong "secret sauce" ranking and the reality that anything -- I repeat for emphasis, anything -- can happen in a five- or seven-game series, such a defeatist position may be even more untenable than you would assume at first glance.