Are the AL West leading Texas Rangers, winners of 9 in a row, 4 real? Not only has Richey Manic carved it into his arm (above), but The Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheenan concurs.

The Rangers are in contention because they’ve become much better at keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. Their raw total of 225 runs allowed puts them in the middle of the pack, but again, consider the run environment. Ameriquest Field is a very good hitters’ park, the best in the AL over a period of years (although its current park factor makes it fifth in the league).

Once again, the credit for the pitching has to go to Orel Hershiser. Without a significant amount of talent to work with, Hershiser has been able to get the Rangers to pitch a bit¦well, a bit like Orel Hershisher did back in the late 1980s. The Rangers have allowed just 35 home runs this year, the fewest in the AL by six, an amazing feat given their home park.

The Hershiser influence is less apparent in the other indicators: the Rangers are in the middle of the pack in walk rate and have a below-average K/BB thanks to a strikeout rate of just 5.58 K/9, 13th in the AL. Again, this is in part by design–the Rangers have a ball-in-play staff that wants to let the infielders make plays–but also reflects a lack of raw pitching talent that may be the team’s biggest weakness. Still, if you can allow the fewest homers in the league while playing in one of the league’s best home-run parks, you’ve got a big head start on success.

This isn’t the AL West of 2000-2004. The A’s are going to be hard-pressed to get back to .500, while the Mariners aren’t likely to contend behind a very bad pitching staff. The Angels have much deeper and more effective pitching than do the Rangers, but they can’t come close to the Rangers’ offensive capabilities, even with Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup. It might take just 87 or 88 wins to lead the division, and the Rangers are well-positioned to get to that number.