When they say everything is bigger in Texas, they aren't kidding. The Rangers were a big surprise when they won the AL pennant in 2010. They made that fantastic run, the first real post-season success in the franchise's history, on the strength of a potent lineup and the arm of Cliff Lee. Lee may be gone now, but the offense is back and even bigger and better than it was last season, which is why the Texas Rangers will win the World Series.
That 2010 Ranger team that had such a tough lineup, they actually scored a good, but not great 787 runs that year. Now compare that to the 855 runs they scored this season, the third most in the majors and you can understand where I am coming from. Thanks to the off-season signing of Adrian Beltre and hijacking of Mike Napoli, not to mention the wise decision to not dump Michael Young, Texas now boasts a relentless offensive attack that will keep opposing pitchers up all night. Just check out these credentials:
- Five players with 25+ homers
- Six players with a .800+ OPS (minimum 150 at-bats)
- Zero players with a sub-.700 OPS (minimum 150 at-bats)
- Six players with a .340+ OBP
- One player with 100+ strikeouts
- Two players with 30+ stolen bases
- Their team OPS against righties is .798 and .805 against lefties
So what does that mean? It means that they have no easy outs in the lineup. It means that they don't give away many at-bats with strikeouts. It means that they almost constantly have players on base. It means that they can beat you with the long ball. It means that they can beat you with their legs. It means that their lineup is deep and balanced. In short, it means that their lineup is a freaking nightmare.
Considering that all of the other post-season rotations in the American League have major question marks, this may be a year where the old adage of "good pitching always beats good hitting" doesn't apply. The Rays probably have the deepest rotation and will be facing the Rangers in the ALDS, but their ace, David Price, will likely only be available for one start, which probably won't come until Game 3 or Game 4. If that is the case, after Texas faces James Shields, the Rangers are going to be licking their chops to get a chance at facing Jeremy Hellickson, a rookie, a very good rookie, but a rookie nonetheless, and either iffy inconsistent starters Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann or possibly rookie Matt Moore who has all of one career start in the big leagues. That's really the best possible scenario for Texas as Tampa is likely the team that best matches up against them.
After that, the Rangers would be set to face the Yankees or Tigers who both have major rotation question marks after their first two starters.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Rangers own rotation. Their staff is not without its own question marks. C.J. Wilson is the unquestioned staff ace now that the aforementioned Cliff Lee is no longer around. Who fills in after Wilson remains to be seen. Youngsters Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison all finished the season with ERAs under 4.00, but each of them have experienced a fair amount of ups and downs. Strangely, all three of them had rough months of August, something largely attributed to each of them logging heavy innings for the first time in their respective careers. Luckily for Texas, all three have rebounded nicely in September, especially Ogando who was an All-Star this year. And there is also Colby Lewis one of the heroes of Texas' 2010 post-season run. Lewis may be older, but he is just as inconsistent as the three kids on the staff.
Not knowing which starters to trust sounds like a problem, but it doesn't have to be. Since he has so many options at his disposal, Ron Washington is stuck using anyone for very long. For example, if Derek Holland struggles in Game 2 of the ALDS, he can pull the plug early and go to Lewis in relief. Most likely though, it will be All-Star Alexi Ogando being thrust into a relief role since he had a fair amount of success in that role in 2010. Considering how deep the Ranger bullpen already is, that goes a long way towards mitigating any problem the Rangers might face with their starting pitching.
While teams like the Tigers will be hoping to get seven or eight innings from their starters, the Rangers really only need five or six, if that. Thanks to some deft trade deadline maneuvering, the Rangers are probably the one team that can't get to their bullpen fast enough. Joining Ogando in middle relief are two high quality lefties, Darren Oliver and Mike Gonzalez (two guys who could wreak havoc against the Yankees) and elite right-handed setup men Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. And then they have lights out closer Neftali Feliz to close it all out. With a relief corps like that, opponents better score early and often against Texas if they have any hope of winning a game.
Is it a sure thing that all these things will go right for Texas? No, not at all. Let's not forget that their top player, Josh Hamilton, was a wild disappointment in the 2010 post-season. However, he is healthier now and, like the most of the rest of the roster, he has some post-season experience to draw upon now. The point is that if Hamilton, or any of their other key players, under-performs, the 2011 incarnation of the Rangers has the depth and experience to make up for that player. Cliff Lee or no, this team is better all-around than it was last season and that depth could give them the extra push they need to win the whole darn thing this time around.