Texas Rangers: 6 Reasons 3rd Time Will Be a Charm in 2012 Postseason
The Texas Rangers are the best team in baseball, and this will be the season they put it all together to win the World Series.
This may seem a little ludicrous considering the Rangers have already lost two straight Fall Classics, but this team has the firepower and the mental fortitude to get back and win.
Texas is motivated and focused to return, as evidenced by their quick start to the year at 41-27. They have been turning the sting of defeat into fuel to their fire ever since they were forced to watch the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate what should have been their championship.
They are the most talented team in baseball this season and have the postseason experience to lean on when they hit October this year.
So, here are five reasons that the third time will be the charm for the Rangers this postseason.
The Rangers Feature the Best Lineup in Baseball
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The Rangers have the best lineup in baseball.
This is not a mere statement or opinion; it's a fact. Whichever way you shake it, statistically or just in terms or pure talent on the roster, Texas is the best.
The Rangers are No. 1 in the MLB in runs scored, batting average, RBIs, hits, total bases, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. On top of that, they rank in the top five in doubles and home runs and are in the top ten in triples.
But even that doesn't tell the whole story.
Pitchers fear the Rangers' lineup.
One through nine, each hitter is capable of doing major damage if the pitcher makes a mistake. There is no break in this lineup.
On an everyday basis, the Rangers feature six All-Stars on their lineup card: Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler. That list doesn't even include likely 2012 All-Star Mike Napoli, who was the hottest hitter in baseball in the second half of last season.
But perhaps the worst part for opposing pitchers is the No. 8 and 9 slots in the lineup, which will either feature Mitch Moreland, David Murphy or Craig Gentry, all of whom are hitting above .274 on the season.
The Rangers are batting at a torrid pace this year, and as good as every hitter is on this team, it's hard to envision the team ever going through a prolonged cold stretch.
When the postseason rolls around, that depth will pay dividends for the same reason because—as Nelson Cruz showed in last year’s ALCS—it only takes one hot hitter to carry a team.
The Rangers' Rotation Is Deep, Young and Talented
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While the Rangers' offense gets all of the attention, their rotation is nothing to gloss over.
Actually, this starting staff is better than either of the rotations that were used during the last two playoff runs.
Right now, the starters are ravished with injuries, as Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando are all on the DL with a myriad of injures. But when healthy, the Rangers have five starters capable of going deep into games and, most importantly, keeping runs off of the board.
The staff is led by Colby Lewis.
Lewis may be a career journeyman, but he's quickly shedding that label and has been the most consistent pitcher in the Rangers’ rotation. He is 6-5 with a 3.00 ERA, good for the eighth best in the American League.
Behind him, 26-year-old Matt Harrison is quietly putting together an All-Star-caliber season. He is tied for first in the AL with nine wins and has a very solid 3.41 ERA. Harrison is starting to pitch with the poise of a veteran and has made quality start after quality start this year.
But it’s the pitchers following Lewis and Harrison that have the real top of the rotation talent, starting with Japanese phenom Yu Darvish.
Darvish has been very good in his first season on this side of the Pacific. He has eight wins, a 3.47 ERA and 88 strikeouts early on and has made hitters look absolutely silly at times with his terrific repertoire, highlighted by a 10-strikeout performance against the Yankees.
Darvish has been great so far and will be in contention for Rookie of the Year all season.
After Darvish, you have the young fireballers Holland, Feliz and Ogando. Despite the fact that all three of these guys are spending their Junes on the DL, when healthy they are very solid additions to the back end of the rotation.
The Rangers have the eighth best starters' ERA in baseball and the fifth best opponents’ batting average against at only .241. The offense might get all the hype, but the starting staff is perfectly capable of carrying the Rangers come October.
Texas' Bullpen Comes into Games and Shuts Them Down
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The Rangers' starting rotation is good, but the bullpen is the best part of the pitching staff.
Texas' bullpen has the sixth lowest ERA in baseball at 2.92 and the seventh lowest opponents’ batting average as hitters are only hitting at a .223 clip.
However, even those outstanding numbers don't tell the whole story about how good this group of relievers is.
The Rangers bullpen features two former closers in Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe and one of the best setup men in baseball, Mike Adams.
That list doesn't even include Alexi Ogando, who is one of the most dominant and flexible pitchers in the game and Robbie Ross, whose 6-0 record and 1.25 ERA make him one of the top relief pitchers in baseball, despite his rookie status.
Although, it’s closer Joe Nathan that’s the real backbone of this group.
Nathan signed with the Rangers this offseason after an injury-plagued season with the Minnesota Twins. Many thought the four-time All-Star was done as a top-flight closer, but he has done nothing but prove the doubters wrong this season.
He has the third lowest ERA on the team at 1.63 and has converted on 14 of his 15 save chances. He also has an outstanding whip of .87 and has only walked two batters all season. He has mixed his mid-90s fastball with a hard breaking slider and a change-of-pace curve, which has had hitters on their heels all year.
When the Rangers' starters hand the ball off to the bullpen with a lead, they always seem to finish off the game.
The bullpen doesn't allow many runners to get on base, and even fewer cross the plate, which will serve them well when they reach October.
With Roy Oswalt They Have a Proven Playoff Ace
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Two years ago the Rangers acquired Cliff Lee to be the ace that would lead them to the World Series. He did a fine job of it, until he got to the biggest stage.
In the World Series, Lee struggled. He went 0-2 and gave up 10 runs in only 10.2 innings, getting out-pitched every step of the way by the Giants' Tim Lincecum.
Last season Texas expected CJ Wilson to be the team's stopper in October, but he did exactly the opposite.
Wilson went 0-3 in Texas’ run to the World Series, and his inability to pitch in the big moments was a big reason the Rangers failed to redeem themselves last season.
This year, however, the Rangers will be leaning on a proven commodity once they reach the postseason, Roy Oswalt.
Texas signed Oswalt on May 29th to help shore up a rotation depleted by injury. But his real value won't be felt until the games get tougher in the fall.
Oswalt has an outstanding postseason record. He is 5-2 with a 3.79 ERA in four playoff appearances. Those numbers would be even better if you don't include his horrid showing last year with the Philadelphia Phillies when he went 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA, coming off of an injury.
Oswalt is a 13-year veteran, and his experience will serve the Rangers well come October, as he sets the tone for a young staff.
Josh Hamilton Is the Best Player in Baseball
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When the game is on the line, there is no better player to have at the plate than Josh Hamilton.
However, this isn’t just true at the end of games. Hamilton is spectacular from the first pitch to the last.
This season Hamilton is seventh in the MLB in batting average, second in home runs and first in RBI's and slugging percentage. Most importantly, however, he is fourth in baseball in wins above replacement at 3.4.
Hamilton is the rare five-tool player. He combines speed, power and fielding better than any player in this generation, earning him the nickname The Natural.
"He's the most talented player I've ever played with, and I played with Alex [Rodriguez] and Juan Gonzalez," Young said. "He can do everything. Superstar talent."
That talent was evident in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series when he hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the 10th inning, which looked like it would win the game for the Rangers. But to the dismay of Texas fans, the St. Louis Cardinals came back to win the game, despite the Cards being down to their last strike twice.
If the Rangers had won that game, Hamilton and his homer would have been forever remembered in baseball lore. Instead, Texas lost the series, and the moment was put on the back burner.
The Rangers have the talent to get back to the World Series again in 2012, but it will be up to Hamilton to lead them there. Who knows, he might even get his chance to put his stamp on history again.
The Atlanta Braves Theory
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However, despite their resolute greatness, the team only managed to win one World Series in that stretch. That win came in 1995 over the Cleveland Indians, in baseball's first year back after the 1994 season was lost to a lockout.
Atlanta's 1995 World Series appearance was the team's third in four seasons, after the Braves lost the 1991 and 1992 Fall Classics.
The Rangers route to a title is following a very similar path to that of the great Braves teams of the '90s.
Like Atlanta, the Rangers have built a young and talented core from within, through great drafts, good development and savvy trades. Also, both young squads made it to back-to-back World Series in the team's first romps through the postseason, only to come up short on both occasions.
After the second loss, it took the Braves another two seasons to make it back to the World Series, which they finally won in 1995.
But that's where the Rangers hope the similarities end, because Texas wants to get off the schneid this season.
The Rangers, like the Braves did, have the young core to be successful on the diamond for a decade. Atlanta may have only won one World Series during their incredible run, but at this point the Rangers would take that.
The Braves are the most comparable team to the Rangers in recent history. Texas just hopes they can earn their ring one year ahead of the pace Atlanta blazed in the '90s.