Elite. Imagine that.
Four years ago, the Rangers were rebuilding. A year and a half ago, they were bankrupt. But now, by disposing of the Tigers in the Championship Series, they've done what no AL team has done since the 1998-2001 Yankees -- ascending to the World Series in consecutive years.
It's a remarkable achievement for a club that doesn't operate with nearly the same resources as those available in New York and Boston, and it's a testament to an organization that has molded old-school competitive fire with new-wave analysis and topped it off with one of the more high-energy clubhouse environments in the game.
"We have a really good clubhouse culture," general manager Jon Daniels said. "I think it's [manager] Ron Washington, it's the staff, the kind of players we're bringing up, our veterans. You talk to Mike Napoli or Adrian Beltre or Vlad Guerrero or Mike Adams or whoever comes in here, and the theme you constantly hear is, 'This is the best clubhouse I've ever been a part of.' I think that's a reflection of the veteran leadership, it's Wash, it's the whole organization. That's why we're trying to [create an] environment that's welcoming."
They won last year when they sold off some pieces of their bolstered farm system to land an ace in Cliff Lee. And they've won this year, without Lee, with a deeper lineup, thanks to last winter's additions of Beltre and Napoli, and a bullpen rebuilt with midseason moves.
All those outside acquisitions have augmented a strong core, quite a bit of it homegrown.
"Our philosophy is building from within our system," club president Nolan Ryan said. "That's the way we're going to stay. If we have a specific need, somebody we think fits, we'll certainly consider trying to do that. My thought is that we'll continue on the course that we are, and that's from within our system."
You can't argue with the results of the Ryan-Daniels dynamic thus far. The Hall of Fame hurler and the young executive obviously come from very different experiences and perspectives. And they'd probably both admit the working relationship took some time to find its footing. But a couple of AL pennants offer plenty of common ground.
"We have the same goal," Ryan said. "We talk about what our needs are and how do we fulfill those needs. We don't always agree on things, but we do agree on trying to improve the ballclub. We have a scouting department that we put a lot of emphasis on, and we put a lot of stock in what they say and what our development people say. So it's not just [Daniels] and I making a decision, it's a lot of people in the organization."
And it's Washington in the managerial driver's seat. This team has truly taken on his personality -- energetic and ever-hopeful. See Washington watch his players scoot around the bases, running in place in his spot in the dugout as he roots them on, and you get a sense of just how much passion he brings each day.
"I love my team," he said, "and I love watching my team play."
They certainly play well together.
"I don't think it's an accident that you see guys like Milton Bradley have their best years here," Daniels said. "I think it all goes hand-in-hand. You try to put people in a position to succeed."
Washington is in a good position going into the World Series, for he has a deep and relentless roster at his disposal.
Thus far this October, the Rangers have defied the perception that starting arms alone dictate a club's direction. There's no Justin Verlander, no Roy Halladay and, yes, no Lee on this staff. C.J. Wilson might well be the biggest name on the list of soon-to-be-free-agent arms, yet his postseason performance hasn't bowled anybody over. In fact, in the midst of this postseason run, the starting staff has largely struggled.
But the Rangers win with a lineup that has the speed to rattle the opposition and the power to pummel it. It's a lineup that attracts much of the focus (and deservedly so, given eruptions like that nine-inning third inning that allowed Texas to take over Game 6), but don't overlook how sound the Rangers have been defensively, and how reliable they've been in their bullpen. That was probably the biggest difference in a captivating ALCS.
"We have one of the best defenses in baseball," Ian Kinsler said. "We have one of the best offenses in baseball. We have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. We're a very good team. But then again, to get to this point in the playoffs, you have to be a very good team.
"We believe in ourselves, and we just want to prove ourselves all over again after last year."
They've undoubtedly done that. And now they have a chance to prove they are worthy of the game's ultimate prize.
"If you had told me last year coming out of Spring Training that we'd be in the World Series, I would have said, 'I don't know about that,'" Ryan admitted. "I thought we had a chance to win our division, but from there I didn't know. But if you had told me this spring coming out of Spring Training that we'd have a shot to be in the World Series again, I would have said I feel a lot more confident -- just because of what we experienced last year and the attitude and makeup of our ballclub. You could sense it in Spring Training, that these guys were on a mission."
The mission is not yet accomplished. There is one more step in front of them.
But in a league in which the Yankees and Red Sox are quickly and confidently considered the class of the pack, the Rangers have set the new standard. And they've done it together.