"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."
Funny thing about that last bit there: that's a quote ripped directly from what I wrote on the morning of June 25th, 2010. The Rangers have required a little less than 13 months to match last summer's incredible feat of uninterrupted winning against some of the lousiest competition the National League had to offer, and, in certain respects, this season's 11-game winning streak is even more impressive -- whereas last year's ballclub outscored opponents during its streak by a mere 70-33 margin, this year's team has managed to plate an equal number of runs (70) in a tougher run environment while allowing just 24. Oh, sure, the disclaimer about the inadequacies of the competition still stands, but 11 straight wins is still straight 11 wins, by which I mean "awesome."
And for that matter, the statistics amassed during the course of those 11 straight wins still count just as much in the end-of-year statistics as the rest. Curiously, Texas can lay claim to neither the best offense or pitching in the game over these last two weeks (the Red Sox and Angels have bested them in both areas, respectively), but there's been some truly marvelous performance on a team-wide level nevertheless: over the course of those last two weeks, the Rangers have hit .322/.354/.541 (.383 wOBA; 141 wRC+) and pushed across nearly 6½ runs per game, while their pitching staff has produced a 2.09 ERA, 3.33 FIP, and 3.26 xFIP, as well as a delightful 7.8 strikeouts against just 2.1 walks per nine innings ... and, interestingly, a .226 BABIP.
Why the "interestingly," you ask? Because as I pointed out in a recent Baseball Prospectus column, something a tad strange happened last month -- after having posted some of the worst fielding-independent ERAs in baseball in April and May, but still doing okay from an run prevention standpoint because of their good fortune where those largely uncontrollable factors like team BABIP and left-on-base rates were concerned, the tables were turned last month ... and have taken another interesting turn thus far in July:
April: .268 BABIP (4th), 75.0 percent LOB% (5th), 3.89 ERA (17th), 4.50 FIP (27th)
May: .259 BABIP (1st), 77.7 percent LOB% (3rd), 3.53 ERA (10th), 4.60 FIP (28th)
June: .316 BABIP (30th), 66.8 percent LOB% (30th), 4.39 ERA (24th), 3.67 FIP (10th)
July: .252 BABIP (5th), 78.7 percent LOB% (3rd), 2.93 ERA (4th), 3.41 FIP (10th)
If the baseball gods can continue to smile down upon the Rangers and supply good fortune where their BABIP and left-on-base rates are concerned (with a healthy assist from the defense, of course), and the team pitching peripherals continue to trend in this very welcome direction, Texas could end up blowing the doors off this divisional race. With the Angels' post-season odds now having plunged by nearly 10 percent just since the end of the All-Star break, one might posit that the Rangers already are in the process of blowing the doors off, and might end up never looking back over their shoulders.
And while we're still in the business of conferring plaudits, how about this: Mike Napoli (28 PA, .423/.464/.923), Michael Young (43 PA, .390/.419/.610), and Elvis Andrus (49 PA, .357/.404/.429) have all been absolute monsters over these last two weeks ... but there has been no bigger monster than Ian Kinsler (52 PA, .326/.404/.652), whose offensive contribution of 5.8 runs above average over this span is good for the eighth-best mark in baseball, with five of those seven that are ahead of him calling the AL East home. As of Monday morning, Kinsler boasts the fifth-best wins above replacement total in the American League (+4.6 WAR), and, at .252/.365/.462 (.375 wOBA; 135 wRC+), is still fighting the good fight with the likes of Pedroia, Ben Zobrist and Howie Kendrick for the title of best-hitting second baseman in baseball.
Kinsler may not garner serious consideration for the AL MVP award (and certainly won't win it, so long as both Jose Bautista and Adrian Gonzalez are still upright and breathing), but we could possibly be looking at a top-five finisher in the making, at the very least ... and after what transpired last season, I don't think many people would have projected Kinsler to make the journey to that upper echelon of the baseball world ahead of the current reigning AL MVP.