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Reason for Rangers' return to World Series? They're good


The popular storyline about the Rangers, the one you'll hear more than once over the next few days, is that once they lost to the Giants on the first day of November, they were absolutely determined to get back to the World Series and win it.

"Starting in spring training, you could just tell they were on a mission," club president Nolan Ryan said the other night on the field at Rangers Ballpark.

Nice story, but I'm not going with it. There's a reason the Rangers became the first World Series loser since the 1991 Braves to make it back the next year, and it's not that they were more determined.

It's that they were better.

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Too many of us didn't acknowledge that this spring, focusing instead on how the loss of Cliff Lee would leave the rotation too weak. Too many of us didn't understand it when the playoffs began, when our six CBSSports.com experts picked three different American League teams to go to the World Series -- that's right, every playoff team except the Rangers.

I was wrong. We were wrong. Heck, you were probably wrong too.

It's time to acknowledge something that's now too obvious for any of us to miss.

If you're going to start listing baseball superpowers, you had better not forget that team down in Texas. If you're going to talk about elite teams, you had better mention the Rangers.

And when it comes time for preseason picks next March, would somebody please send me a note reminding me about the Rangers?

After their AL Championship Series-clinching win over the Tigers, the Rangers insisted that they need to win the World Series before we call them elite.

Asked how it felt to join the small group of teams that have won back-to-back league titles, general manager Jon Daniels said, "I think the other ones that did it won the World Series."

He's right. The last four teams to play in two or more consecutive World Series (the 2008-09 Phillies, the 1998-2001 Yankees, the '95-96 Braves and the '92-93 Blue Jays) all won it at least once.

Even the 1991-92 Braves, who lost both years, got back and won it just three years later. Same goes for the 1977-78 Dodgers, who lost twice but came back and won in 1981.

But the real lesson there isn't that it takes a World Series title to validate a team. It's that teams that go to consecutive World Series are so good that they eventually win one.

The Rangers are that good. If they don't win the World Series that begins Wednesday night in St. Louis, they'll win it next year -- or one of the next few years.

I'm not saying it's the start of a dynasty. I'm saying it's not a one- or two-year blip.

The Rangers have a creative and determined front office, led by Daniels. They have a manager who earned respect and loyalty from his players and pushed them toward an aggressive style of play and an emphasis on the importance of defense.

They have a lineup so deep that ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz bats seventh, and a bullpen so deep that guys who were closers elsewhere have become one-batter specialists this October.

And they have a rotation that is significantly better than it has looked this month. For the 162-game season, only the Rays and Angels (barely) had a lower ERA from their starting pitchers.

The Rangers stockpiled enough young arms that when Cliff Lee said no to them last December, they could basically shift their focus away from starting pitching. They showed interest in both Zack Greinke and Matt Garza, but had no problem resisting the prices in prospects that both would require in a trade.

Instead of overspending on a lesser starter, they made third baseman Adrian Beltre their big offseason signing, eventually counting on Michael Young's professionalism and Washington's touch in the clubhouse to make the pieces fit.

A year ago, when the Rangers made it to the World Series for the first time in their history, it was all too easy to point to the midseason trade for Lee.

A year later, the Rangers are back, proving that it wasn't one deal or one good series.

"This year validates it," said Tom Grieve, the former Rangers player and general manager and longtime television analyst for the team. "It shows that last year was not just 'everything fell together for the Rangers.'

"It validates the talent in the organization, and the quality of the decision makers."

And yes, it validates the Rangers' determination, too.

"Right at the end of the World Series, I remember walking through the clubhouse," Daniels said. "Most of the guys were just sitting there, digesting it. They were focused [on getting back] all year long."

I'm sure they were. But the Rays, Rockies, Tigers, Astros and all those other World Series losers of recent years didn't falter the following year because they weren't determined to get back.

They lost out because they weren't good enough.

The Rangers were. They're better than too many of us realized.

"Are we elite? I don't know," Ryan said. "But I do think we're as good a ballclub as there is."

He's right, they are ... whether they win the World Series this year or not.


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