The Texas Rangers are AL West Champions. Let that phrase sink in in case it hasn’t already. A foregone conclusion since July, the Rangers formally RSVP’d for the playoffs on Saturday with their win in Oakland - the first time the Rangers have gone to the playoffs since 1999 when Rick Helling and Aaron Sele anchored the Rangers rotation.
The ‘99 Rangers were swept away in the ALDS by the New York Yankees - who have defeated the Rangers in each of their playoff appearances (1996, ‘98, 99). Along with the Mariners and Nationals, the Rangers are one of three franchises left in Major League Baseball who have yet to reach the World Series. Even worse, the Rangers are the only franchise who have yet to win a playoff series.
The ‘10 Rangers can remedy all that history this year. Here are the Top 5 reasons the Texas Rangers will win the 2010 World Series.
1. Once Josh Hamilton returns, the Rangers will be fairly healthy.
So far this season, Ian Kinsler has missed 59 games. Nelson Cruz has missed 54 games. Josh Hamilton has missed 28 games. Both Kinsler and Cruz have missed roughly a third of the season and the Rangers are still going to the playoffs regardless.
Of course, a lot hinges on Hamilton’s effectiveness upon his return from his ribs injury. Even if he comes back at 85% of what he was this year, he would still be one of the best hitters in the American League.
The playoffs will be one of the seemingly rare occasions this year where the Rangers will have Hamilton, Cruz, Kinsler, Guerrero, Andrus, Young and hopefully David Murphy in the same lineup together. Hopefully the Rangers will receive production from whomever starts at 1B - Cantu or Moreland. Regardless, it’s still a very good lineup and one that will be superior to what we’ve seen lately - just for the mere fact that Josh Hamilton will be back in it.
2. The Rangers have an excellent and deep bullpen.
This is something many baseball fans take for granted. In the offseason, it always seems as though fans will be willing to overlook bullpen needs since the general sentiment is they’re easy to replace. I myself am guilty of this train of thought - though it does have merit.
It’s very easy to take a bullpen like the one the Rangers have for granted. It’s something you don’t realize how good it is until it’s gone. Just ask the Yankees who had been struggling with the eighth inning role until trading for Kerry Wood. Just ask the ‘09 Rays who were doomed by the back end of their bullpen.
Between Darren O’Day, Darren Oliver, Frank Francisco, Alexi Ogando and of course Neftali Feliz, the Rangers have an excellent bullpen for October. It’s not just that they’re deep, either. The back end of that is awesome.
When the Angels won the World Series in ‘02, Francisco Rodriguez appeared in 11 games, pitching 18.2 innings and striking out 28. When the Cardinals won the ‘06 World Series, Adam Wainwright appeared in nine games throughout the postseason and struck out 15 en route to the Cardinals title. The Red Sox had Papelbon in ‘07, the Phillies had a perfect Brad Lidge in ‘08 and the Yankees of course had Mariano Rivera last year.
Having an excellent bullpen, or at the very least an excellent back end of the bullpen, goes a long way in October. Of all the teams in the playoffs, there’s no bullpen I’d rather have than the one Texas will boast next week.
3. The Rangers rotation stacks up extremely well.
These aren’t your ‘99 Rangers. Rick Helling, Aaron Sele and Esteban Loiaza are nowhere to be found. Instead, Rangers fans will get to see three starting pitchers who have been very good throughout the entire 2010 season. Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis will anchor the 1-3 spots in the Rangers playoff rotation.
While we don’t yet know who the Yankees rotation is going to feature, my guess is it will look something like CC Sabathia followed by Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Pettitte has missed the majority of the second half, having only returned recently. Hughes was excellent in the first half of the season. The second half is a different story. He’s gone from a K/9 of 8.1 in the first half to 6.4 in the second half. Hughes’ walk rate has increased as well which has resulted in a second half ERA of 4.96 thus far. Sure, the Yankees could throw Burnett and/or Vazquez into the rotation, but that’s not going to provide any more certainty than Hughes or Pettitte.
The Rays will have David Price anchoring their rotation. There’s more certainty to the Rays rotation than New York’s but it’s still not terribly imposing. Shields and Garza will serve as the 2/3 starters for the Rays. They’ve posted WARs 2.3 and 1.7 for Tampa this season. By contrast, Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson have posted WARs of 4.4 and 4.2 this year. They’ve been twice as good as the Rays second and third starters.
Minnesota will trot out Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing. Liriano has been excellent this year and is a Cy Young candidate. Pavano has been worth 2.9 WAR and Duensing in his split role, 1.7. Neither of them have a good K rate, with Pavano posting a K/9 of 4.79 and Duensing 5.37. Minnesota does boast a good defense - they’ve saved the third most runs of any defense in the majors this year and have the eighth best UZR/150 as team but there’s just still so much that can go wrong when a ball is put in play. Pitchers who don’t strike out batters simply don’t scare me.
As foreign as it sounds, I’ll gladly take the Rangers rotation compared to the other teams in the American League.
4. There’s simply something special about this Rangers team.
OK, it sounds odd. The Rangers have been a special team this year. There’s no statistic to measure ‘special’ nor is this a scientific reason. It’s just a feeling.
Do you remember when the Rangers beat Mariano Rivera this year? They did, and it happened not once but twice. Rivera has all of three losses this year, two of them at the hands of the Rangers. That simply doesn’t happen to the "greatest closer of all time." The Rangers don’t care what Buster Olney, Mike Francesa or anybody thinks of Mariano Rivera - they beat him twice this year. He’s beatable to the Rangers. That in itself is something special.
Texas has succeeded this year with significant members of their lineup being out for long periods of time. It’s not easy to run away with a division when three of your best hitters are missing significant time, but the Rangers managed to do it.
C.J. Wilson wasn’t supposed to transition this seamlessly to the rotation, but he did. And in fact, he proved me wrong. Vlad Guerrero stayed healthy throughout the entire year - despite fading in July and August. He’s enjoyed a solid September, though.
The Rangers weren’t supposed to be able to make any significant moves at the deadline, or any moves at all really with the ownership situation not yet resolved. And then they went ahead and traded for Cliff Lee at a price that doesn’t seem like it’ll kill them.
Maybe it’s the Claw and Antlers, but there’s simply something special about this team.
5. Cliff Lee.
When the Rangers traded for Cliff Lee, they knew they were going to the playoffs. Texas didn’t need Cliff Lee to get to the playoffs. They acquired Lee for the playoffs. They traded for Cliff Lee to go toe to toe with Sabathia, Price, Liriano, Halladay or Lincecum.
There has been one pitcher who has been worth more WAR in the entire MLB this year than Cliff Lee and his name is Roy Halladay. Halladay has posted a WAR of 6.8 to Lee’s 6.6. It should be noted that Halladay has made six more starts than Lee has this year as well.
Cliff Lee can pitch twice in the LDS and three times in the LCS and World Series. That’s essentially having the best pitcher in baseball this year starting in eight of the necessary 11 wins it takes to win the World Series.
It’s not like Lee is a stranger to the October stage, either. We all saw what he did last year with Philadelphia in October. He started five games last October, pitching 40.2 innings with a .81 WHIP and 1.56 ERA.
It’s OK to dream of what it would be like if Lee pitches like that this October. If he does, it’s very feasible that the Rangers not only will win their first playoff series and first pennant in franchise history - it’s also feasible the Rangers will win their first World Series title in franchise history.
Nearly everything has to go right for the Rangers to win the World Series - but that can be said of any team playing in October. The 2010 Texas Rangers have an excellent chance to do something extremely special this coming month. Rangers fans have every reason to be excited. Playoff baseball is something that has been absent for 11 years in Arlington. The franchise has existed since 1961 before moving to Arlington in 1971.
It’s time for a championship.