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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Washington is key to Rangers' synergy -- and success

Despite numerous injuries, skipper has ballclub playing better than sum of its parts

Washington is key to Rangers' synergy -- and success play video for Washington is key to Rangers' synergy -- and success

Ron Washington is a terrific manager, a terrific leader -- one of the best -- and the Texas Rangers are extremely lucky to have him in charge of their baseball team. If you're keeping a checklist of things we've learned during this first month of the 2014 season, be sure and jot that one down.

Sometimes, we forget. The Rangers have been so good these past few years that it's easy to take their success --and their manager -- for granted. In fact, there were rumbles in Texas late last season that maybe the time had come for the Rangers to put someone else in charge.

As silly ideas go, this is pretty much at the top of the list. As Washington said at the end of a second straight disappointing finish, "You'd think my track record counts for something."

You'd think.

Anyway, back to 2014.

All things considered, the Rangers have been ridiculously good. To have baseball's third-best record after being virtually gutted by injuries is a tribute to many things.

It's about president of baseball operations and general manager Jon Daniels and the tremendous job he has done in adding depth to the organization.

It's about the maturity and attitude of the core group of players, as well as those that Daniels has added.

Most of all, though, it's about Washington. When a team out-performs its personnel, it's largely about the manager.

Washington has that intangible thing that some men are blessed with. It's that elusive leadership thing.

At a time when front offices can provide managers with volumes of information on lineups, matchups, defensive alignments, etc., the one thing managers must do is deal with players, both individually and as a group.

It's about his ability to create the right environment in the clubhouse. It's about keeping negativity in the hallway, away from the players.

When Washington writes a guy's name on his lineup card, he believes in that guy. At least he has the ability to convince the world -- and more importantly, that guy -- he believes in him.

Think about that one for a moment. Have you ever heard Washington say a single bad word about one of his players?

For that matter, have you heard Joe Maddon, Bob Melvin, Joe Girardi, Tito Francona, Bruce Bochy, Buddy Black, Buck Showalter or any other of baseball's best managers do it? Almost never, right? This is a people business, folks.

That's not to say he's a soft touch -- far from it. In fact, Washington can be brutally tough on young guys, on holding them accountable and making sure they play the game the way Washington thinks it ought to be played.

Washington has had his own experiences in this area. During a 10-year big league playing career in which he was seldom a full-time player, he saw managing from every angle.

Some part of this are his natural instincts, his sense of optimism. Some other part of it, though, is his understanding that players perform better when they think the guy in charge believes in them.

And that's the story of these Texas Rangers.

Their No. 2 and No. 3 starters -- Derek Holland and Matt Harrison -- haven't thrown a single pitch. Fellow starter Colby Lewis is just back from a risky hip procedure.

Their projected closer, Neftali Feliz, is in the Minor Leagues. Their starting third baseman (Adrian Beltre), catcher (Geovany Soto) and second baseman (Jurickson Profar) are on the disabled list.

One of their two big off-season acquisitions, first baseman Prince Fielder, is hitting .208 with two home runs. The other, Shin-Soo Choo, is slowed by a sore ankle.

The Rangers are winning with lineups filled with names like Josh Wilson, Robinson Chirino, Donnie Murphy and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Somehow, it's working just fine. They're fifth in the American League in runs despite being 13th in home runs. They're doing it with speed, leading the American League with 20 steals. Their ERA is only eighth-best, at 3.95.

Through all this, the Rangers are 13-8 and a half-game behind the A's in the AL West. The A's have had some adversity themselves, but that's a story for another day.

Once the Rangers begin to get guys back, they could face some tough decisions with regards to playing time. Again, though, Washington has shown he can make it work.

Kouzmanoff is hitting .362, and Wilson .297. Left-hander Robbie Ross Jr. has a 2.31 ERA and appears to be in the rotation to stay.

The Rangers ultimately will need their stars -- Yu Darvish, Elvis Andrus, Beltre, etc. -- to be at their best. But winning teams are complicated things, requiring contributions from many different places.

The Rangers have established that their whole may be greater than the sum of the parts. The depth Daniels has attempted to build is revealing itself in all sorts of ways. Their manager is doing his job, too, perhaps better than anyone else in the game.

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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