The Texas Rangers will once again be playing October baseball.
It has become commonplace in Texas to expect the local nine to play deep into the Major League Baseball season. It comes about as naturally as a Nolan Ryan "snow monkey" reference.
And why not?
This incarnation of this Rangers team is just as good as, if not better than, the past two seasons that saw them fall just short of the ultimate goal.
The 2010 team that lost the World Series in five games only won 90 games on the season, posting a 90-72 record.
The 2011 version finished better, with a 96-66 record, but still lost one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory in seven games.
This season, the team will definitely finish better than 2010 and possibly even better than 2011. They are the only AL team to have clinched a playoff spot already, even despite a losing month in July that saw them only go 9-14.
The Rangers should be ready to take things to the next level this season. Here is a preview of the lineup you can expect to get the job done for them this fall.
Assuming the Rangers decide to roll out a four-man rotation, this is what you can expect to see:
No.1 Matt Harrison: 17-10, 3.17 ERA, 1.262 WHIP
No.2 Yu Darvish: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.273 WHIP
No.3 Derek Holland: 11-6, 4.42 ERA, 1.160 WHIP
No.4 Ryan Dempster: 7-2 (12-7), 4.48 ERA (3.07), 1.343 WHIP (1.150)*
The Rangers have the fortune of being able to roll out solid right-handed hurlers in Darvish and Dempster opposite quality south paws in Harrison and Holland.
Sure, as a whole, the team has only the 13th best ERA in the majors, a 3.87 to be exact, but this four-man rotation owns a 12-9 record against the Yankees, Tigers, White Sox, A's and Orioles this season.
This is a formidable starting four that matches up well against any other rotation in the postseason.
* - statistics in parenthesis represent full season statistics.
Despite the loss of Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz for the long haul, the Texas Rangers are still pretty well stacked in the bullpen.
Joe Nathan: 2.69 ERA, 1.028 WHIP
Mike Adams: 2.84 ERA, 1.362 WHIP
Alexi Ogando: 3.28 ERA, 1.011 WHIP
Koji Uehara: 2.15 ERA, 0.750 WHIP
Mark Lowe: 3.26 ERA, 1.190 WHIP
Roy Oswalt: 6.29 ERA, 1.583 WHIP
Martin Perez: 3.78 ERA, 1.440 WHIP
Robbie Ross: 1.74 ERA, 1.145 WHIP
Obviously the end of the bullpen is strong, anchored by Joe Nathan who has 35 saves on the season and has closed the door on 58 games.
Beyond that, the most intriguing name on this list is probably Roy Oswalt. Yes, he has been a bit of a diva since coming to Texas when he complained of his role. However, this is precisely why the Rangers wanted him: for his playoff experience.
There is no reason to mess with the best offensive lineup in baseball.
The 2012 Rangers boasted the best team batting average in MLB with a .275 while driving in an MLB-best 764 runs.
That said, it would seem foolish to tinker with this:
C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
LF David Murphy
CF Josh Hamilton
RF Nelson Cruz
DH Michael Young
It is a lineup that frightens opposing pitchers and efficiently wins games.
The Rangers have such a strong starting lineup, it seems pointless to configure a bench for them, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right?
That said, it is totally reasonable to see the team carry the following:
C Geovany Soto
UT Mike Olt
OF Craig Gentry
UT Brandon Snyder
Obviously the Rangers want to be prepared in case Mike Napoli is incapable of catching at any point, which is why Soto makes sense.
Mike Olt has proven himself to be a worthy utility man defensively this season and could cover the corner infield positions in the event some shuffling needs to be done.
Craig Gentry and Brandon Snyder can provide offense and defense for late in games, just in case a change should be needed.
With the team constituted as such, the Rangers should be able to travel deep into the month of October.