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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

The good times continue to roll in Texas

Offseason losses and rotation injuries have not sidetracked Rangers

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Lance Berkman said that one of the things that struck him about his new team is how committed so many players were to their craft. He would later also discover that the Texas Rangers were a close-knit team and a good group of people to hang out with.

Berkman believes that same kind of closeness contributed to the Cardinals winning a World Series in 2011, and now he's lucky enough to land in a similar situation.

During the first week of Spring Training, though, it was the professionalism of the group that stuck out. Players showed up very early in Spring Training, and hours before formal workouts began, there'd be many of them going at it in the weight room or the batting cages. Berkman had been on other teams that had players who worked hard and were passionate about the game. With the Rangers, it was the sheer number of players with that kind of commitment.

One of the story lines of this Spring Training was how good the Rangers would be after an offseason in which free-agent defections stripped their roster of outfielder Josh Hamilton, catcher Mike Napoli and relievers Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. President of baseball operations and general manager Jon Daniels also traded veteran Michael Young.

Daniels also came up short in his efforts to land Zack Greinke and Justin Upton. Instead, he settled for two less-splashy veterans in Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski.

With starter Colby Lewis recovering from torn flexor tendon surgery, and with the Rangers coming off a spectacular September meltdown, it was difficult to know just how good they would be.

All they've done is prove that good organizations endure and that Daniels has built one of baseball's best. Despite all the changes, the Rangers finished April at 17-9, tied with the Braves for baseball's second-best record.

That work ethic Berkman has seen firsthand surely is a factor. The left side of the infield, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus, is baseball's best. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is off to a fast start after a disappointing 2012. And first baseman Mitch Moreland has been terrific in his first chance to play every day.

Say this for Daniels: He tried to tell us things might work out. When he got questions about the players who were no longer around, Daniels pointed to the players the Rangers still had and to the two veterans he added.

Even without Hamilton, who averaged 33 home runs and 113 RBIs in his four healthy seasons, Texas is positioned nicely for a fourth straight postseason appearances.

The Rangers are doing it differently. In a year, they've gone from 16th (3.99) to first (3.14) in ERA, and from first (4.99) to 10th (4.54) in runs per game. That's an exchange virtually every general manager would make.

What's really impressive is that the Texas bullpen has gotten even better despite the losses, with the overall ERA dropping from 3.42 to 3.12.

This may be the area in which Daniels can take the most organizational pride, because three of his own Draft picks -- Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman -- have done a tremendous job pitching the innings in front of closer Joe Nathan.

Skipper Ron Washington has managed the workload, too. No Texas reliever is in the AL's top 10 in either innings or appearances.

Likewise, Washington's ace, Yu Darvish, is the only Rangers starter among the AL's top 10 in innings. Texas' rotation leads the AL in ERA at 3.15, even without Lewis, and with Opening Day starter Matt Harrison sidelined indefinitely after undergoing back surgery.

Two replacement starters -- Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm, both 2010 Draft picks -- are a combined 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA.

The Rangers are in such good shape that two of baseball's most heralded prospects -- infielders Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt -- were unable to make the club out of Spring Training.

To sum up: this is a great time to be a Rangers fan, and they've responded by packing the house, as the club seems likely to draw 3 million fans for a second straight season.

Here's hoping they enjoy the ride, because this is about as good as it gets. In their first 38 seasons, the Rangers made just three playoff appearances and were unable to win a series.

Now they've got a couple of AL pennants hanging over Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and this season's start has offered hope that the best may be yet to come.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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