October 18, 2011
After losing to the San Francisco Giants a season ago, the Texas Rangers have been pointing toward a return trip to the World Series. There was no hangover. Some wrote off the Rangers after losing Cliff Lee(notes) in free agency, but the team arguably got even better in adding Adrian Beltre(notes) and Mike Napoli(notes). (The pitching staff didn't exactly nosedive either, compiling the fifth-best ERA in the AL.)
The Rangers finished with the second-best record in the AL, one game behind the Yankees. In the ALDS, they destroyed a Tampa Bay Rays team that had taken them to five games in 2010. And though they took six games to defeat the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, the Rangers generally dominated that series. Their eyes have been on a bigger prize.
Here are five reasons why the Rangers will take care of unfinished business and bring the World Series trophy to Arlington.
1. Their relentless lineup: Nelson Cruz(notes) was named MVP of the ALCS after hitting six home runs, driving in 13 and posting an OPS of 1.173. He bats seventh in the Rangers' batting order. That says everything you need to know about how deep this lineup is.
The Rangers' attack starts from the leadoff spot, with Ian Kinsler(notes) and his 30 home runs capable of putting a run on the board right away. Then the real fun begins for opposing pitchers. Josh Hamilton(notes). Michael Young(notes). Beltre. Napoli. And the aforementioned Cruz. Four of those hitters hit at least 25 home runs during the regular season. Two of them hit 30. And the one guy who didn't batted .338 during the regular season, and helped the Rangers clinch the ALCS by driving in five runs.
2. A bullpen to envy: Somehow, the Rangers made it to the World Series despite none of their starting pitchers throwing a quality start in the ALCS. But after chasing those starters from the game, the Tigers couldn't break through against a superior bullpen.
Yes, the back end of the Rangers' relief corps is formidable with Darren Oliver(notes), Mike Adams(notes) and Neftali Feliz(notes). But middle relief is where Texas truly had an advantage, able to keep the game in hand until manager Ron Washington brings out his heavy bullpen artillery.
Scott Feldman(notes) has been outstanding, allowing one hit in 5 2/3 innings of relief. However, Alexi Ogando(notes) is the true luxury. He'd be the second or third starter on most teams, and the Rangers can bring him out of the bullpen at any point in the game — like a roving closer — to shut down a threat. In 10 1/3 innings, Ogando has allowed one run and struck out 12.
3. Losing the DH doesn't hurt: Who do we have to sit down? It's the problem most every AL team has to face when playing in an NL ballpark. Had any of the other AL playoff teams made it to the World Series, hitters such as Victor Martinez(notes), Jorge Posada(notes) and Johnny Damon(notes) would've had to sit on the bench or play out of position on defense.
No such problem exists for the Rangers. Napoli has played plenty at catcher this season and held his own defensively. So it's not like Texas loses anything behind the plate. Yes, putting in Yorvit Torrealba(notes) might make the lineup even deeper, but not having a DH means a pitcher will have to bat in place of someone like Endy Chavez(notes) (.000 postseason average) or Mitch Moreland(notes) (.105). That's not losing much, except maybe a bit on the defensive side.
4. Aggressive baserunning: It's hard enough to deal with the Rangers' batters when pitching to them. But when they're on the bases, it's a whole other headache for the opposing pitchers and defense. Kinsler is a threat to steal second or third base whenever he's on base. Elvis Andrus(notes) can completely disrupt the concentration of a pitcher who's worried about him stealing his way into scoring position.
Look at Game 4 of the ALCS. In a tie ballgame with two outs in the sixth inning, the Tigers' Rick Porcello(notes) kept throwing over to first base to hold Andrus, rather than focus on pitching to Young. Eventually, Porcello threw away a pickoff attempt for an error, letting Andrus advance. Already rattled, Porcello left a ball high in the strike zone that Young could drive for a RBI single.
The Tigers might have gotten out of that inning had the Rangers not pushed the issue with their speed. The Cardinals surely face the same problem in the World Series.
5. This isn't new to them: Normally, I would probably roll my eyes at the "experience" argument, too. The Cardinals had to get through two tough playoff matchups to get to the World Series. They've had to be on top of their game for two months while making up a 10 1/2-game deficit in the NL wild-card race. Also, this isn't the first rodeo for Tony La Russa and his coaching staff, along with Albert Pujols(notes), Yadier Molina(notes) or Chris Carpenter.
But the Rangers were here just last year. They've been through all the travel, hype, harsher media spotlight, additional interviews and extra ticket requests and family accommodations that come with playing for a championship. Washington knows that managing in the postseason is different than the regular season. The players know how intense every pitch can be. And they're getting really good at those ginger ale celebrations.
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