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Daniels, soaring Rangers won't be complacent

AL's top team has a double-digit division lead, but GM wants more
June 28, 2016

NEW YORK -- After the Rangers' 7-1 victory on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, they find themselves with a Major League-leading 51 wins and a comfortable 10-game lead in the American League West. It's right where they want to be, but Jon Daniels, their longtime general manager, is nervous."We just

NEW YORK -- After the Rangers' 7-1 victory on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, they find themselves with a Major League-leading 51 wins and a comfortable 10-game lead in the American League West. It's right where they want to be, but Jon Daniels, their longtime general manager, is nervous.
"We just don't want to take anything for granted," Daniels said before his club opened its three-game series against the Yankees. "Where we are in the standings really doesn't play a role in our thinking."
To that end, Daniels is making a keen analysis of the competition just about a month away from the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Viewing his own division, the Angels and A's seem to be looking toward the future. The Mariners, in first place as recently as June 2, have lost 16 of their past 24 to fall 11 1/2 games out. The Astros, after a troubling 9-18 start, have battled back to 41-37 and are 10 games back.
"Seattle has had a similar deal as we've had. They have three starters on the disabled list," Daniels said. "Houston's playing great. As well as we've played over the last month, they've kept pace with us the whole time. They're a very talented club."
So are the Rangers. Despite veteran starters Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis all on the DL, the rotation has been outstanding. After Cole Hamels shut out the Yanks on six hits over seven innings on Tuesday night, Texas' starters are second in the AL behind Cleveland with a 3.62 ERA. The offense is second in the circuit behind Boston with 387 runs scored. The entire pitching staff is 10th overall in the AL, having allowed 309 earned runs (329 total).

That plus-58 run differential is one good reason why the Rangers are poised to run away with their division and win it for the fourth time since 2010.
Yet, you can't blame the 38-year-old Daniels for feeling like he is treading gently on egg shells. He grew up only miles from here in Bayside, Queens, and he has a degree in applied economics and management from Cornell University. In Ithaca, N.Y., Daniels was a fraternity buddy of A.J. Preller, now the Padres' GM and not too long ago Daniels' assistant.
It was good to be home, Daniels said, but the work never ends. He was one of the early prototypes of the young GMs that have now proliferated the ranks of Major League teams.
Like Theo Epstein, then with the Red Sox and now with the Cubs, Daniels has enjoyed some success. His Rangers clubs went to the World Series in 2010 and '11, only to fall short both times.
In 2010, it was a five-game loss to the Giants, and in '11, it was a heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals in seven games. In Game 6 at St. Louis, Texas had the lead in the Series and was one strike away from winning it all twice late in that game. It didn't happen.
Last postseason, the Rangers took a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five AL Division Series against the Blue Jays and lost the last three games. They lost a division title to the A's on the final weekend of the 2012 season and subsequently dropped the AL Wild Card Game to the Orioles.
Through it all, Daniels has been the constant, building and rebuilding the fabric of the on-field product from within and without. He's outlasted owners, club presidents, the manager and some coaches. From the back-to-back World Series teams, only Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Holland, Lewis and Josh Hamilton remain, and Hamilton is out for the season after left knee surgery.

There is an air of unfinished business around the club that even second-year manager Jeff Banister senses.
"Oh, I think so, I do," said Banister, who replaced Ron Washington in that role. "In their view, yes, but this is a different team. I think they're so invested in this team, but for those individuals, like J.D., yes, certainly."
Beltre and Andrus give the team a veteran presence with a Rangers background and Ian Desmond represents a new-found toughness. Desmond is a good example of Daniels taking a chance on a free agent nobody wanted. The shortstop had a dismal .233-hitting walk year with the Nationals in 2015, and he was signed to a one-year, $8 million deal on Feb. 29.
Desmond moved to center field, and after a 3-for-5 effort on Tuesday night, he is batting .326 with 14 homers, 51 RBIs, a .377 on-base percentage and a .909 OPS. Take that, doubting baseball ops evaluators.

"I'm loving it," Desmond said about playing for Texas.
About switching from his natural position, Desmond doesn't care.
"All I care about is playing for a team that has more wins than anybody else in the league," Desmond said with a big grin on his face.
Daniels is not finished trying to improve his team's chances, and he has done it before. On July 9, 2010, he added big left-hander Cliff Lee to an already strong starting rotation. In '11, it was relievers Koji Uehara and Mike Adams. Last July 31, it was Hamels.

Daniels said this week that he thinks the current team is deeper, stronger and better defensively than the two World Series teams. But experience tells him it's never enough.
"For us right now, we're just trying to get an idea where our guys are," Daniels said. "Guys coming back from injuries, what's realistic from a timeline standpoint? What can they contribute to us? Right now, if we were going to do anything externally, it would likely be on the pitching side, but it still remains to be seen what's going to be available."
History says Daniels usually finds some pretty good pieces, particularly when his club is in a position of strength. With 51 wins and a 10-game lead, that's a pretty strong position they're in at the moment.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.