Once October starts, teams change. No team came into their ALDS in very good shape, and the team with the best September record, the Twins, was swept for the second straight year. Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about the Texas Rangers, who won their first playoff series in franchise history against the team with the best record in baseball:
- The other Rangers pitchers weren’t too shabby either. C.J. Wilson, the Game 1 starter against the Yankees on Friday, threw 6.1 innings of shutout baseball and Colby Lewis went 5 shutout innings. Tommy Hunter didn’t have a great game, but the Rangers have to be pleased with what their starters turned in. That doesn’t necessarily bode well against the Yankees lineup, but at least you know that they’re capable of turning in good performances.
The problem is, with the possible exception of Wilson, starters not named Cliff Lee pitched well enough to keep their team in the game, but they didn’t dominate. In order for the Rangers to win, their offense has to produce, or you’ll get games like the two they played in Texas.
As I said in the ALDS preview, the Rangers bullpen isn’t exactly overpowering, either, so if their starters can’t shut down the opposing lineup, they could be in real trouble. Ron Washington’s go-to Darrens, Oliver and O’Day, are lefty and righty specialists respectively, while rookie closer Neftali Feliz has shown no reason for overwhelming confidence.
- Josh Hamilton is not near 100%. He’ll get a couple days to heal up a little bit, but odds are he still won’t be the Josh Hamilton that the Rangers need to help buoy their young pitching staff. He hit .111/.200/.111 in his first playoff series, managing to knock in only one run on aggressive baserunning by Elvis Andrus.
This certainly has to concern the Rangers, but Texas still managed to put up some runs on the Rays, who are no slouches in the pitching department. The Rangers will face a similarly-skilled pitching staff in the ALCS, but one with much more experience. I know that if I was Ron Washington, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with a healthier Josh Hamilton than the one I got in the division series. Of course, there’s nothing you can do about it, but that’s how I’d feel.
- The offense is formidable. As expected, the Rangers gave the Rays no rest and took advantage of miscues and mistakes to secure a victory. It almost wasn’t enough, though, and proved once again that in the postseason, an offense can’t carry you to a championship. The guys across the field in the ALCS will be the first to tell you that a mediocre pitching staff with an out-of-this-world offense won’t get you anywhere. Lucky for the Rangers that they’ve got Cliff Lee. But when the other pitchers pitch to “keep them in the game,” the offense has to produce against a tough, experienced rotation and a lights-out bullpen.
The combined youth of guys like Andrus, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler with the experience of Vladimir Guerrero, Bengie Molina, and Michael Young provides an exciting mix for the Rangers offense that was on full display during Game 5. A lineup like this that pushes the limit with speed and power can quickly take over any game. The problem has been consistently harnessing that capability. If the Rangers can manage to do that, the Yankees will have their hands full.