The Rangers are the best team since the '98 Yankees. Do you agree?
Tom Verducci made this statement yesterday to John Feinstein and Bruce Murray during their mid-day show on Mad Dog Radio. I think Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels have done a fabulous job turning around that ballclub, but they should not be discussed in the same breath as one of the best baseball teams of all-time.
The '98 Yankees weren't a collection of All-Stars. Although the Yankees have been a payroll team for the better part of the decade, this was not the case during the late nineties dynasty under Joe Torre. The Yanks were actually number two, behind Baltimore, with their $66 million dollar payroll. There were six other teams that were within $10 million dollars of them, as well.
That '98 team was a collection of homegrown talent, veteran acquisition and component players that thrived in their roles. That group scored 965 runs, which is the tenth highest in franchise history. Offensively, it was on par with the powerful offenses of the late twenties and thirties. Even more impressive was their pitching. They only allowed 656 runs; on par with the top staffs in the National League despite having to deal with the Designated Hitter. This current Rangers group is on par with that production, but in the depressed post-steriods era. The Yankees output was amazing due to the explosion of offense we saw that season.
Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and Williams made up a strong homegrown core. Cone, El Duque, David Wells, Chuck Knoblauch, Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez were key veteran acquisitions. Former stars such as Tim Raines and Darryl Strawberry accepted part-time roles. Scott Brosius, Chad Curtis and Joe Girardi were key component players. The bridge to Rivera was made up of relievers - like Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson- who could be closing for most teams. It was a great mix that fit perfectly together. That team dominated with 114 wins and won three straight titles.
The Rangers have won back-to-back American League pennants. They are an impressive bunch that can beat a team in a variety of ways. They can out slug, win a 2-1 game or beat you in the bullpen. Their 31-20 record is the best in baseball, but they don't stack up to that historic Yankees team, yet.
The two biggest differences I see is the type of offense they have and the starting pitching. The Rangers are led by Josh Hamilton, who currently has 21 homers and 57 RBI in just 46 games. They have good surrounding lineup with Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre. They are, however, receiving sub-par production from two veterans - Michael Young and Nelson Cruz- which makes their offense predicated on Hamilton. Take their star out of that lineup and see the difference.
The '98 Yankees weren't a team that relied on one slugger. The only below league average hitter in their lineup was Chad Curtis (OPS+ of 90). They could beat you with home runs, move runners along and even had speed. The Rangers are a powerful team that can bludgeon you to death. I do believe, however, they will struggle to score if the home runs don't come in droves. Texas also doesn't have the type of bench of that Yankees team. There are no Raines' or Strawberry's to substitute; clear advantage to New York.
The starting pitching of the Rangers is promising, but still not consistent. Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish still put way too many runners on base despite their hefty strikeout rate. The two young lefties - Matt Harrison and Derrek Holland- are still very inconsistent. Texas most reliable starter is Colby Lewis, who was one of their better starters in last year's World Series. Give me Cone, Wells, Pettitte and El Duque in a seven game series. It really isn't a contest. Defensively they appear to be pretty even which neutralizes the pitching results.
Their bullpens are both deep. The Yanks had Stanton, Nelson and Graeme Lloyd and the secret weapon, Ramiro Mendoza, as a bridge to Mariano. The Rangers have Alexi Ogando (who can also start), Mike Adams, Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara. It's a bullpen of top notch setup men. You could argue that Joe Nathan is Rivera-lite over the course of his career. His performance this year (11 saves, 2.08 ERA) post Tommy John
The biggest difference between this Rangers group and the late nineties Yankees, or early nineties Blue Jays for that matter, is they haven't sealed the deal. They lost to inferior National League clubs in the World Series. When it counted the Giants' and Cardinals' staffs were able to shutdown this powerful offense. Those Yankees teams always found a way to win against an Atlanta team that, arguably, was better on paper. The Rangers are still very much about potential and not results.
There has to be a World Series title for me to even discuss this Texas team with the '98 Yankees. Even if there is I don't know if that still would justify putting them in the same category of that dynasty.
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