Rangers take unique route to World Series


The Rangers have earned their first trip to the World Series. And they didn’t do it with mirrors, either. They defeated the team with the American League’s best record during the ALDS and last year’s World Series champions in the ALCS. Without question, they were the best hitting team in the American League during the playoffs and the best pitching team. They are exactly where they belong.

We’ll have plenty of time to talk about what happens next, but let’s not forget where this team — and this franchise — came from.

What better place to start than with the redemption story of Game 6 starter Colby Lewis. He was originally drafted by the Rangers as a supplemental first-round pick in 1999, but shoulder surgery derailed his first stint with the team. Lewis eventually headed to Japan in 2008 after posting a 6.71 ERA over his first 72 games (34 starts) in the majors. Finally healthy, he found himself back on the radar of major league general managers while pitching with the Hiroshima Carp. Despite being courted by several teams, Lewis eventually returned to Texas on a two-year, $5 million contract. 11 years after he was originally drafted, the 31-year-old right-hander posted a 3.72 ERA during the regular season and pitched the Rangers to the World Series in Game 6 on Friday night. It’s almost too good to be true.

We’re all familiar with the story of Josh Hamilton by now, so I don’t need to rehash it all here. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels took a real leap of faith when he acquired the talented-but-troubled outfielder from the Reds in exchange for Edinson Volquez and Daniel Herrera in December of 2007. There have been some bumps along the way — Hamilton relapsed in early 2009 and has struggled to stay healthy at times — but we’re seeing why Tampa Bay selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft. He was just named the ALCS MVP and could be adding some more hardware later this fall.

Rangers manager Ron Washington has had to battle some demons of his own since testing positive for cocaine last summer. When the story was first made public back in March, there was a real danger that Washington could have lost the team, but instead they have rallied around him. Nobody will ever mistake Washington for a tactical genius — see his bullpen usage during the ALCS — but his players have done nothing but praise his attitude and leadership skills during this postseason run.

Keep in mind that just a few months ago, the future of the franchise was still very much in limbo. Hamstrung from any additional spending by major league baseball, general manager Jon Daniels was somehow able to swoop in and acquire Cliff Lee from the Mariners when everybody thought he was going to the Yankees. One trade single-handedly moved the Rangers from a legitimate contender to an elite postseason force. The eventual sale of the franchise to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan put an exclamation point on the Rangers’ first division title since 1999.

There was something symbolic about Alex Rodriguez making the final out in Game 6 on Friday night, but I didn’t take it as poetic justice or revenge. Instead, I saw it as the official act of waving goodbye to a previous era. Finally breaking ties with a past regime that believed in buying success rather than banking on the strength of individual will and the concept of team.

Ryan Zimmerman’s spring training has been . . . weird

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Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has played in exactly one Grapefruit league game this year, and that was way back on March 2. Since then he has been totally absent from the Nats’ big league spring games, playing instead on the back fields in sim games and in minor league contests.

While that’s not an unusual course of action for an injured or rehabbing player, both Zimmerman and the Nationals insist that there is nothing wrong with him. Per this report from MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, they’re saying that Zimmerman “simply prefers to get his work done in the more controlled environment of minor league games, where the rules are lax.” He doesn’t have to dive for balls, he can lead off every inning, etc. Manager Dave Martinez says Zimmerman simply doesn’t like the usual spring training grind and that this is working for him so he’s fine with it too.

Are you buyin’ that? Not sure I’m buyin’ that.

I suppose weirder things have happened. The Minnesota Twins once let Jack Morris go back to his farm in between starts rather than stay with the club. Other accommodations have been made for veterans, especially in spring training. But this is way more in keeping with a team hiding an injury. Though I have no idea why the Nats would choose to hide an injury to Zimmerman. They’ve talked at length about Daniel Murphy‘s knees and Adam Eaton‘s seemingly never-ending rehab. If Zimmerman has some aches and pains, you’d think they’d talk about it.

On the other hand, if this is a legit story and it is simply an accommodation for a veteran who doesn’t like the normal spring training grind, look for Zimmerman to be a trailblazer, because there are a LOT of dudes who hate spring training too and would love to change things up like this.