Okay fans, time for a pop quiz. Who has the best record in the American League? Toronto? The Red Sox? The Tigers? Nope, nope and nope. We all should know that the Dodgers have the best record in baseball and in the National League. But who has the second best record in the National League? The Phillies? The Cardinals? The Braves? The Mets? Nope, nope, nope and nope.
The team with the best record (currently) in the American League is the Texas Rangers. The second best record in the National League? That would be the Brewers. And both teams have the exact same record, 26-17--a .605 winning percentage. The Brewers even lost two games in a row and still maintain that status. Who would have predicted that these two teams would have a .605 winning percentage at ANY point in the season, never mind a quarter of the way into the season.
Both teams were expected to hit. Both teams have a lot of players who can really swing the bat. But both were supposed to be too light in the pitching department. Both teams have hit. Both are second in their respective leagues in homers. The Rangers are first in their league in slugging. The Brewers are fourth. The Rangers are second in their league in OPS, the Brewers fifth. So even though Josh Hamilton has been shut down for half of his team's games and the Brewers are getting nothing from the bats of Hardy, Hall and Hart (sounds like a vaudeville act), they are doing just fine at the plate.
It's the pitching and the defense that has surprised the most. The Rangers have ALWAYS had poor pitching. It was just a given. People always shook their heads and said mournfully, "If only they could pitch." But the Rangers' starting rotation is 17-11. They are averaging 6.3 innings per outing. They lead the league in complete games. They also lead the league in saves. Last year, the Rangers finished with an ERA+ of 82 and the team's ERA was 5.37. The team WHIP was 1.576. Contrast that with this year's numbers. ERA+ of 102; ERA of 4.52 and a WHIP of 1.370.
Of the Rangers' starting rotation, only Brandon McCarthy was not close to the league average ERA+ of 100. That was before Sunday's shutout he pitched.
The Brewers were highly suspect after losing Sabathia and Sheets. It would seem impossible for the team to come close to posting its team ERA of 3.87 of last year--a year where they finished first in several pitching categories. But the Brewers have held their own with a team ERA of 4.08. With the exception of Manny Parra, the starting rotation has been decent, with flashes of excellence. And the bullpen with only a couple of early exceptions has been exceptional, especially since anchored by Trever Hoffman, who hasn't given up a run this year and is making it seem impossible that Mariano Rivera will ever catch him in career saves (there is no way Rivera will catch him).
Mark DiFelice has been remarkable. Setter, McClung and Coffey have all been very good. It seems an unlikely combination of pitchers, but it is working thus far.
The Brewers and Rangers both have closers who have yet to give up a run this year. Frank Francisco might be the closer you have never heard of. But he is perfect thus far and has a rediculous WHIP of 0.766. Darren O'Day has been great as well for the Rangers.
The Rangers are also fielding much better than last year. They finished last year with a .978 fielding percentage, last in the American League. They had a team range factor of 4.16 and a Total Fielding Runs Above Average rating of -24. This year, their fielding percentage is fifth in the league with .986 while their team range factor remains the same.
The Rangers didn't handle the Michael Young move to third very well. In fact, they botched it pretty badly. But they made the right move. Young's range factor at short last year was 4.59. Young Elvis Andrus has already made an impact at short and is sporting a range factor over 5.
It remains to be seen if the Brewers can hold on in a division with the Cubs as the best team on paper, though they have been an enigma, the Cardinals much improved and the Reds getting good pitching, if not much hitting. The Rangers seem to have the much better chance to stay on top of the AL West, with Oakland, California and the Mariners all sporting glaring weaknesses.
It sure has been fun to see these upstarts doing so well.