It's April 11th, and at the risk of sounding like something of a broken record, the Rangers have taken on the visage of a team that not only is far and away the best in its division, but also knows that it's the best. I fear that it's going to constitute a shock to all of our systems when we're jarringly reminded that baseball isn't actually as easy a game as Texas is currently making it look, and again caution that this five percent chunk of the 162-game marathon shouldn't be viewed as anything more than it actually is -- but, in the meantime, it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch, and perhaps there are a few things we've seen that can be more safely extrapolated than the rest:
- I don't know what's more exciting -- the underlying processes behind the efforts of Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando in their five total starts to date, or the excellent across-the-board results that those processes have yielded. Considering that results aren't sustainable minus a good process (see Pedro Astacio's first three starts in 2005 as a prime example of this), it's probably the former, and in Harrison's case it's been especially fascinating to watch. The annual deluge of proclamations to the effect of "Eureka! I've finally figured it all out!" have gradually desensitized us and turned us toward extreme skepticism whenever a player claims he's made a huge, possibly career-altering breakthrough, but in Harrison's case, there's growing evidence to back up his own aggressive claims, and it's getting a little easier to believe in Harrison with each successive start.
There's the velocity thing, of course, and I'm still in awe of Pitch f/x's indication that he's apparently added 0.8 mph to the four-seam and two-seam fastballs he threw as a reliever last season (hint: moving from the bullpen to the rotation doesn't usually beget expectations of more velocity), but I'm equally floored by the extent to which he's visibly smashing right-handed hitters inside with the fastball, compare to the messy fastball location distribution he showed in 2010. All three of Ogando, Holland, and Harrison look like big league starters right now (though none more so than Harrison), and I can't promise it's going to last, but if you've ever entertained the thought of getting legitimately pumped about Harrison, the time may be nearing to do so.
- It's been my experience that cracks in a team's defensive facade tend to become evident much more rapidly than those that may appear in a team's lineup or pitching staff; of course, this probably has something to do with our own personal 'eye tests' imparting more information when applied to actions in the field than actions at the plate -- which can be more easily attributed to a hitter slumping -- or on the mound, but that's not germane to my point, which is that this appears to be one of the more fantastically well-rounded team defenses assembled by anyone in the last decade. One hardly requires an overactive imagination to arrive at that presumption, but even a defense that looks spectacular on paper isn't really spectacular until it manifests during the games. Thus far, this one has, and thus far the cracks have been virtually undetectable.
Between their two legitimate Gold Glove-caliber types manning spots on the left side of the infield (Beltre and Andrus), their other two above-average-with-flashes-of-excellent infielders (Kinsler and Torrealba), their three uniformly great starting outfielders (Hamilton, Borbon, and Cruz), and their serviceable first baseman and fourth outfielder, I'm finding myself so underwhelmed by the raw run-preventing talent that the two definable liabilities in the house -- Michael Young and Mike Napoli -- are becoming easy to ignore. Maybe the Rangers will begin their descent back towards Earth soon, and maybe Young will unfortunately be exposed in the field on a game-changing play that reignites my feelings on that front, but the fielding looks so good right now and projects to be so good going forward that it's growing progressively easier to look past the odd botched fielding chance here and there. Funny how that works.