Back to St. Louis: These aren't those Texas Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ron Washington won't have any flashbacks when he walks back into Busch Stadium on Friday afternoon. He said so.

We know that won't be true. This isn't like going to Minute Maid Park.

The Rangers are making their first return to the scene where they came so close to winning it all.

One strike away -- twice.

One catch away.

A lot has changed since the Rangers lost Game 6 of the 2011 World Series to the Cardinals in heartbreaking fashion. And then Game 7.

These aren't those Rangers anymore. Josh Hamilton is gone. Michael Young, too. Mike Napoli. C.J. Wilson. Scott Feldman. Darren Oliver. Mark Lowe.

So instead of flashing back, let's look forward to the more pressing question.

Can the Rangers get back to the World Series?

The Rangers are in position to make another run. They're only one game back of the Oakland Athletics in the AL West after taking three of four games -- all comeback wins -- from the A's this week. This silver lining capped a disappointing 11-game homestand where they suffered through one of the worst offensive ruts in franchise history.

Health and the success of front office maneuvering will likely determine whether the Rangers make a fourth straight playoff appearance and get to their third World Series in four seasons.

Reinforcements are on the way for the beat-up pitching staff in the next month. Reliever Joakim Soria should come first, and the former closer will give a major shot in the arm to an already solid bullpen. Then Alexi Ogando. And Colby Lewis. And then Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz.

Just getting two back would arm the Rangers for the stretch run and potentially make them a team to beat in the American League.

The Rangers' minor league system is healthy at all levels, and the blockbuster trade they didn't make in the offseason could happen around the July 31 trade deadline.

Maybe a key bat. Maybe Cliff Lee.

The Rangers are ninth in the AL in runs scored, so the offense must pick it up. The return of Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland, who is enjoying a breakout season, will help immensely.

Jurickson Profar is here to stay, and he will only get better. The 20-year-old infielder and, maybe, soon-to-be outfielder could provide that youthful exuberance in September.

Despite the injury to Ogando and placing two rookies in the rotation, the Rangers are fourth in the AL with a respectable 3.76 ERA.

And the Rangers need look no further than across the field to see a club that has handled transition well since the 2011 World Series. The Cardinals have moved on from Albert Pujols and boast baseball's best record at 47-26. They made the playoffs last season, too.

The Rangers aren't the same team they were during their last visit to St. Louis. Maybe a club in a little bit of transition. Maybe not.

But they're poised to contend this season. And the next. And beyond.

Maybe the next time that Washington walks into a ballpark full of memories for the first time since playing in a World Series, he'll think about the final out -- and the Rangers dog pile that ensued.