By Steve Silverman
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It has little to do with the middle-of-the-pack start that has the Yankees behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. It’s just the way both franchises do business.
For years, it was George Steinbrenner’s demanding presence that kept the Yankees focused on the task of building and maintaining the best team in baseball. After Steinbrenner died in 2010, the structure was seemingly in place to keep the Yankees at the top. The money was certainly there to get and keep the players the Yankees needed in place. But since Steinbrenner’s death, something has been missing from the business.
It wouldn’t matter if another team hadn’t stepped into the void and taken advantage of the situation. But the Yankees no longer have to be concerned about the slugging Boston Red Sox or the overachieving Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox will always have a place in Yankee tradition while the Rays should be admired for getting the most out of their talent.
However, it’s the Rangers who are now setting the standard for American League excellence.
They have a lineup that can pound the baseball, the frontline pitching to shut down opponents and a manager who understands his players and how to get the most out of them. But they also have an out-front owner in Nolan Ryan who continues to drive home the team’s goal of winning championships.
Here’s why the Yankees have to be very concerned about losing their top-rung status in the American League. The Rangers have won the last two American League pennants and lost both of the World Series that they played to the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. They were dominated superior San Francisco pitching in 2010 and they lost in heart-breaking fashion to the Cardinals last year. Yet there is no hangover in the 2012 season.
That’s usually not how it works in baseball. Teams that lose in the Fall Classic don’t usually maintain a position of excellence for three years running without having a down season. The Rangers have rolled to a 22-11 start despite playing the fewest home games of any team in the American League and they are once again dominating.
The Los Angeles Angels were supposed to be the glamour team in the A.L. West when they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in the offseason, but their slow start has left them in the division’s basement. They are confused and looking for answers. The Rangers are strong, sleek and powerful.
While Josh Hamilton has already hit 17 home runs and continues to add to his legend with each passing game, the rest of the lineup offers no let up.
There’s additional power from Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre and hard hitting up and down the order. Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Craig Gentry and Mitch Moreland can all lash the ball all over the lot. Ron Washington can simply do whatever he likes with this lineup.
The starting pitching is not missing a beat without Wilson. They can trot out Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish. Former closer Neftali Feliz has also joined the rotation. No wonder Ryan can sit right behind the Rangers dugout and smile.
The Rangers want to keep their Hall of Fame owner smiling. While no one would ever confuse him with Steinbrenner’s demanding ways, he knows too much about the game to put up with excuses and losing. He’s tough in his own way.
What has become obvious is that there is a void in the Yankees leadership. While nobody can fill the role of “boss” like Steinbrenner once did, they are going to have to attempt to figure out another way. The Yankees have fallen behind a juggernaut of a team from Texas and there are few signs that they will roar down the stretch and overtake them.