The Texas Rangers were afterthoughts by the All-Star break, when they were 42-46 and six games behind the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels. My how things changed. A second-half surge -- fueled by four sluggers who finished with 75-plus RBI, a revitalized rotation that now includes ace Cole Hamels, and a bullpen that went into lockdown mode -- resulted in a division title. The Rangers have the hitting, pitching and speed (Elvis Andrus and Delino DeShields) to make a deep postseason run.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
Rangers: The replacement ace
When the Rangers acquired Cole Hamels, it was viewed as a move for the future. After all, they were 50-52 and seven games out in the AL West. Hamels was under contract through at least 2018 and could be paired with a healthy Yu Darvish in 2016 and beyond. And then Texas took off, going 38-22 from Aug. 1 until the end of the regular season. In 13 career postseason starts, Hamels is 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA. He has pitched in two Fall Classics, including in 2008 when he won a ring and a World Series MVP Award with the Phillies. That big-game ability was on display during his complete-game win that clinched the AL West for Texas on the regular season's final day.
Getty ImagesMike Stone
Rangers: The rest of the rotation
The Rangers’ rotation isn’t just Cole Hamels. In fact, a strong case could be made for either Yovani Gallardo or Colby Lewis to start Game 1 of the ALDS even if Hamels was fully rested. And Derek Holland, finally healthy, showed flashes of his past greatness after returning in late August from a four-month stint on the DL because of a shoulder injury. The team suddenly had such enviable rotation depth that it moved Nick Martinez and Chi-Chi Gonzalez to the bullpen. What was an early-season weakness has become a postseason strength.
Rangers: The healthy bounce-backs
Injuries were a big reason for the Rangers’ last-place finish in 2014, and the health of several of those key players played a vital part in the team’s first-place finish in 2015. Prince Fielder was limited to 42 games last season; this season, he hit 23 homers and drove in 98 runs in 158 games. A banged-up Shin-Soo Choo disappointed (13 homers, 40 RBI, .714 OPS) in 123 games last season, but excelled (22 homers, 82 RBI, .838 OPS) in 149 games this season. And Mitch Moreland was a non-factor in 52 games last season; this season, he swatted 23 homers with 85 RBI and a .812 OPS in 132 games. It’s a completely different lineup with this trio healthy. And then there's the revitalized Mike Napoli.
Getty ImagesRick Yeatts
Rangers: The steadying force
It’s hard to find a more underappreciated player in the majors than Beltre, who quietly puts up solid offensive numbers every season while playing Gold Glove defense at third base. This season has been no different. Beltre finished with 18 homers, 83 RBI and plenty more moments for his defensive highlight reel. And he finished strong, leading the AL with 38 RBI in September/October. In 18 postseason games with the Rangers, Beltre has five homers and nine RBI. Just don’t touch his head.
Getty ImagesBob Levey
Rangers: The closer search is over
Coming into this season, Shawn Tolleson has made 105 career major-league relief appearances – without earning a single save. But that all changed when he slammed the door on a win over the Red Sox on May 20. Tolleson finished the season with 35 saves and fortified the Rangers’ relief corps. And it isn’t only Tolleson; Texas’ entire bullpen -- bolstered by deadline pickups Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman -- has been lights-out in the past couple of months (with the exception of Game 161 against the Angels) and is a major reason the team was able to make a late-season run to the AL West title.
Getty ImagesRob Leiter
Rangers: The emergence of a young bat
It wasn’t that Rougned Odor was terrible as a rookie in 2014. Instead, it’s that the second baseman has been outstanding in 2015. More specifically, his second-half performance was about as impressive as the Rangers’. Odor, 21, hit .273/.313/.520 with 12 homers and 37 RBI after the All-Star break, and his strikeout rate dropped. A guy who was sent to the minors after hitting .144 through the first five weeks of the season transformed himself into yet another formidable force in a loaded lineup.