ARLINGTON -- This wasn't the team the Texas Rangers expected to have. And maybe that's going to make this entire ride just a little sweeter. This is one of those seasons that tests an organization on many levels, and the Rangers keep passing the tests.
That they're back atop the American League West even with six pitchers on the disabled list and even after losing various other important parts along the way is a tribute to the organization that general manager Jon Daniels has constructed.
He has made the Rangers one of baseball's model franchises by drafting wisely and spending cautiously. Rather than throw money at big-ticket free agents, the Rangers -- like the Cardinals -- have been able to resupply their Major League club from within.
When Daniels has spent big -- on right-hander Yu Darvish and third baseman Adrian Beltre, to name two -- he has a terrific track record. And yet, that's only part of the story.
This season is also a tribute to the leadership of manager Ron Washington and Beltre and others who never allowed the clubhouse to lose its focus or its confidence.
Successful clubs are the byproduct of dozens of moving parts working correctly. For the Rangers, that's the single-mindedness of catcher A.J. Pierzynski and the daily brilliance of shortstop Elvis Andrus and a bullpen constructed largely of gifted young Draft picks such as Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers.
The 47-33 Rangers have eight players 25 or younger on their 25-man roster. They've handed the ball to three young pitchers -- Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch and Martin Perez -- 31 times as they await the return of Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison and others.
None of the kid pitchers has celebrated a 25th birthday, and yet the Rangers have gone 17-14 in those starts and gotten 12 quality starts out of them. It hasn't always been pretty, but Washington has continued to run them back out there and give them a chance to grow and learn.
For a while, it seemed to be slipping away. Since losing six straight to the Indians and Blue Jays and falling three games behind the A's in the American League West, the Rangers have played some of their best baseball of the year, winning series against the A's, Cardinals and Yankees.
And then the Reds came to town on Friday, and the Rangers got 6 2/3 shutout innings from Perez and a series of nice defensive plays from Beltre at third and 20-year-old Jurickson Profar at short in a 4-0 victory.
They're still only a half-game in front of the A's, but the Rangers are sprinting toward the All-Star break with a fourth straight playoff appearance in their sights.
"We never doubted our resiliency or toughness," Washington said.
He just didn't know he was going to be marveling at the resilience and toughness of so many kids. For instance, there's Profar. He was called up when Ian Kinsler went on the disabled list and has played so well that the club has decided to find playing time for him. He has made 19 starts at second, two at third and three at short. Asked about the difficulty of moving around he said, "It's still just a ground ball."
Especially youthful arms.
"It's all about those young kids learning," Washington said. "They have the ability to pitch. They've never faced these type hitters before. They had adjustments they had to make. More than that, we as a staff had to make them understand how much confidence we have in them. We've got their back whether it's good or bad. But they've got to keep working and show improvement. They've done that."
Kinsler has been part of the story, too. The Rangers are 34-17 with him in the lineup, 13-16 without him. During his stay on the disabled list, there were times when it looked like things might come undone for the Rangers.
"He's the guy that makes things happen for us," Washington said.
Still, there was nothing approaching panic when the Rangers were losing nine of 11.
"Not really," Andrus said. "We've been playing together for a little while. We understand it's going to happen. That's the way baseball is. You've got to keep battling, keep playing hard and stick together."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.