Friday night, the Rangers clinched the American League West title for the second consecutive season. It was the team's fourth division championship in seven seasons. The Rangers are in the middle of the deepest purple patch in club history, but still searching for their first World Series title.
The 2016 Rangers are not the best team in franchise history, but they do represent one of the team's best chances at a championship. Let's take a look at them and the nine other clubs that make up the 10 best in Rangers' history.
10. 1998 Rangers (Final Record: 88-74; First Place in the American League West; Lost American League Division Series to the New York Yankees, 3-0) — Like its fellow late '90s Rangers teams, the '98 Rangers were good but not good enough. The club's lineup, led by Pudge Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez, was potent, finishing second in the American League with 940 runs scored, but the Rangers' pitching staff was awful, giving up nearly 5.4 runs per game. In spite of struggling so mightily with run production, the Rangers ran the then Anaheim Angels down in September. After trailing the Angels by 3.5 games on Sept. 6, the Rangers ended up winning the division by three games. When the Rangers ran into the Yankees in the ALDS however, the simply capitulated to one of the best teams of all-time, losing three straight by scored of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-0.
9. 2004 Rangers (Final Record: 89-73; Third Place in the American League West; Missed Playoffs) — The 2004 Rangers weren't supposed to be any good. The team had just offloaded Alex Rodriguez and what was left of his $252 million contract to the Yankees and were coming off three straight losing seasons. Somehow, under the leadership of Buck Showalter, who'd end up being named American League manager of the year, the Rangers stayed in contention until the last week of the season. They finished three games behind the Angels, but were one of the better balanced teams the Rangers have had, finishing fourth in the AL in runs scored and fifth in runs allowed.
8. 1977 Rangers (Final Record: 94-68; Second Place in the American League West; Missed Playoffs) — The 1977 Rangers were the first Rangers team that could be considered good, in the traditional sense of the word. Despite playing under four managers, the '77 club set a franchise wins record that would last until 1999. The team's best unit was its starting pitchers, which featured two guys who would end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gaylord Perry and Bert Blyleven, and another who once threw a no-hitter while high on LSD.
7. 2015 Rangers (Final Record: 88-74; First Place in the American League West; Lost in the American League Division Series to the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-2) — For the first four months of the 2015 season, the Rangers were nothing. Having lost their ace, Yu Darvish, to an elbow injury in spring training, the team bobbed along near .500 until the trade deadline mired far from the playoffs or, at the other end of the spectrum, a high draft pick. Then General Manager Jon Daniels traded for Phillies ace Cole Hamels two days before the deadline and the Rangers began slowly reeling in the Astros, who led the division by as many as eight games during the first week of August. The Rangers took over the division lead for good with a win over the Astros on Sept. 15, before losing a wildly entertaining ALDS to the Blue Jays. Without Darvish, the Rangers just didn't have the pitching to contain the Jays in games that weren't started by Hamels.
6. 1996 Rangers (Final Record: 90-72; First Place in the American League West; Lost in the American League Division Series to the New York Yankees, 3-1) — The 1996 Rangers were special but they weren't great. They were the first team in franchise history to make the playoffs and featured the club's second ever MVP winner, Juan Gonzalez. They won the AL West despite an abominable bullpen, Mike Henneman, the team's nominal closer had a 5.79 ERA, which melted down on three separate occasions during a four-game ALDS loss to the '90s Rangers nemesis, the Yankees. Unlike, their fellow '90s division winners, however, the '96 club did manage to actually win a playoff game, and deserves credit for that.
5. 1999 Rangers (Final Record: 95-67; First Place in the American League West; Lost in the American League Division Series to the New York Yankees, 3-0) — The 1999 Rangers, much the same team as the 1996 and 1998 Rangers, get a higher spot on this list because they won more games than either of their brethren. In fact, they held the franchise record for wins until 2011. However well they played in the regular season, they still had no chance against the Yankees in the playoffs, scoring only a single run while getting swept in three games.
4. 2016 Rangers (Final Record: TBD; First Place in the American League West; Playoff Result: TBD) — If the 2016 Rangers lose in the ALDS, this is where they will stay on this list. They'll move up considerably if they manage to cash the check Jon Daniels wrote at the trade deadline. Prior to the Aug. 1 deadline, the Rangers were pretty good. They had Hamels and a recovering Darvish. The offense, while streaky, could score in bunches, thanks to the steady hand of ageless third baseman Adrian Beltre and fiery second baseman Rougned Odor. Then Daniels went out and got the two best hitters available, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and designated hitter Carlos Beltran. As of Saturday night, Lucroy's hit 10 home runs in just 148 Rangers plate appearances, while Beltran seemingly hits the ball hard every at bat, turning what had been a black hole at DH into a Rangers strength. The 2016 Rangers have the offense, bullpen and just enough starting pitching to succeed in the playoffs, now they just have to do so.
3. 2012 Rangers (Final Record: 93-69; Second Place in the American League West; Lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Wild Card Game) — The 2012 Rangers are underappreciated because of the collapse. They were five up on the A's with just nine games to play and managed to lose the division after getting swept in Oakland on the last three days of the season. Still, the 2012 Rangers scored 101 more runs than they gave up and got vintage years from Josh Hamilton and second baseman Ian Kinsler. Add in Darvish, signed from Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters after the 2011 season, and you had a team that could pitch and hit with anybody — they just happened to pick the absolute worst team of the season to have their worst stretch of the season.
2. 2010 Rangers (Final Record: 90-72; First Place in the American League West; Lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, 4-1) — After 11 years in the wilderness, the Rangers finally returned to the playoffs in 2010. Thanks to Josh Hamilton, who hit .359 and won the MVP and Cliff Lee, the team's first legitimate No. 1 starter since Nolan Ryan, the Rangers were able to exercise multiple demons, winning the club's first playoff series by knocking off the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS before beating the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The moment when Rangers closer Neftali Feliz struck out Amex Rodriguez to send the Rangers to the World Series is indelible.
1. 2011 Rangers (Final Record: 96-66; First Place in the American League West; Lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, 4-3) — Following the World Series loss to the Giants the previous year, the Rangers reloaded before the 2011 season. Their biggest move was signing third baseman Adrian Beltre to a six-year, $96 million contract, one that would pay off in spades for the Rangers. The season may have ended in heartbreak in St. Louis, but the Rangers' were the best team in baseball in 2011, plowing through the American League while running up a plus-178 run differential. Beltre was great, Michael Young had his best season as a Ranger and former reliever CJ Wilson somehow proved an adequate replacement for Cliff Lee, who left as a free agent before the season. Even if the 2016 Rangers when the franchise's first World Series, 2011 will hurt, because this team deserved it.
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