No division winner from 2015 was more surprising than the Texas Rangers claiming the AL West. Coming off a last place, 67 win season in 2014 the Rangers began the year 8-16. They remained under .500 through August 3rd where the team rallied behind trade deadline acquisition Cole Hamels. They would go on to win 38 of their final 59 games to finish with 88 wins and the division crown. Despite losing to the Blue Jays in the ALDS the Rangers have come back strong in 2016. This was supposed to be the year the Houston Astros became a perennial World Series contender but the Rangers are taking advantage of a wide open division by playing as well as they finished last season.
Currently Texas is 26-20, which is good for second place in the AL West and just 1.5 games behind the Mariners. The biggest reason for the team's success has been Hamels. Dating back to last year he is 12-0 in his last 12 decisions and has not lost since August 7th. This season he is 5-0 with a 2.83 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 57.1 innings pitched. He is striking out batters at the second highest rate of his career and if it weren't for Chris Sale's historic start Hamels would be generating early Cy Young buzz. He is a good bet to make his first all star team since 2012.
What makes the Rangers so dangerous moving forward is the pending return of Yu Darvish this weekend. Although it takes time for pitchers to regain their full potential after Tommy John surgery, the arrival of Darvish gives the Rangers as good of a 1-2 punch as there is in baseball this year. Texas won the division in 2015 without Darvish throwing a single pitch. On Saturday they will be getting back a pitcher who struck out a ridiculous 277 batters in his second to last healthy season. For his career Darvish has struck out over 11 batters per nine innings.
Another addition to the 2016 Rangers has been rookie phenom Nomar Mazara. The 21-year-old outfielder began the season with little intention of playing in the majors. However, due to the injuries of Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo, Mazara got called up on April 10th and hasn't looked back since. He is batting .317 with 7 homers and 18 RBI through his first 38 games and is the early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.
Mazara has been an injection of youth into an otherwise aging roster. He has played a supporting role offensively to veterans Adrian Beltre, Ian Desmond, and Elvis Andrus, all of whom are having fine seasons. More help is on the way offensively as the team just called up Baseball America's number 10 prospect Joey Gallo. Texas is not without holes, however. Prince Fielder is still hitting below .200, Choo has played in just six games, and the bullpen has already undergone a closer change. Yet if the Rangers can keep things together until Darvish gets going they are as dangerous of a team as any in a wide open American League.