Fresh off two straight one-run wins against their division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Texas Rangers have boosted their lead to seven games in the AL West and sport a healthy 57-40 record in 2010.
While some fans have been surprised by the great play from the Rangers in the first 97 games this season, there were a lot of experts out there who predicted a division championship for Texas this year.
With the Rangers looking more and more like a playoff team every day, the question starting to enter my mind is this: If they get there, are the Rangers built for success in the playoffs?
The main thing you need to have success in the MLB playoffs is great starting pitching. The Rangers helped their cause with a trade for Cliff Lee a couple of weeks ago, and he has already impressed in his three starts with the team.
A playoff rotation of Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter may not sound impressive to a fan of any other team in baseball. Outside of Lee, those names aren't really recognizable as good/great pitchers in the AL. Looking at the numbers, you come to a different conclusion.
We all know what Cliff Lee has done this year. He averages more than eight innings per start and leads the AL in WHIP (0.92) and ERA (2.56). His proven success in the playoffs can only be a plus for Texas if they get to October.
Colby Lewis isn't a big name, but he is having a great season after spending the last two in Japan. Lewis ranks eighth in the AL in strikeouts (117 in 122.2 innings) and has a great 3.52 ERA, impressive 1.14 WHIP, and staggering .216 opponents' batting average. How's that for a No. 2 pitcher on a staff?
After pitching as a set up man for the last three or four years for the Rangers, C.J. Wilson made the transition to the rotation this year and is dominating in a different fashion there. Instead of striking a ton of people out, Wilson is trusting his defense. It is paying off: Wilson leads the league with a .203 opponents' batting average to go along with his 3.03 ERA.
If the playoffs started today, 24-year old Tommy Hunter would most likely be the fourth starter on the Rangers staff. In nine starts this year, Hunter has a 2.09 ERA, and .623 opponents' OPS.
Even though this rotation isn't littered with names that everyone knows, they could match up well with just about anyone in the playoffs.
Lineup and Bullpen
Starting pitching is a big part of the playoffs, but you've also got to have an offense to win ballgames in October. This shouldn't be a problem for the Rangers, considering they sent four hitters to the All-Star game (nearly five with Michael Young losing in the final vote).
Right now, the batting order is Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Bengie Molina, Chris Davis. and Julio Borbon.
That's about as balanced of a lineup as you are going to get in baseball right now with speed coming from the top and bottom of the order. Michael Young and Ian Kinsler get on base at a very high rate. Guerrero, Hamilton, and Cruz are each dominant run producers. Molina can surprise with some pop. Davis is still adjusting but has shown flashes of brilliance.
Even if you look past the offense and starting pitching to find a possible flaw in this team, it's really hard to find fault with the way the bullpen has pitched this year.
Their collective 3.24 ERA is second in the AL (only behind Minnesota) and their opponents' .232 batting average is also second-best in the AL (behind Tampa Bay).
Relievers Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day, and Alexi Ogando each have ERAs under 2.00. Frank Francisco has the most strikeouts for any reliever in baseball. Neftali Feliz is tied for the league lead in saves at 27.
Since I just ran down the whole roster for the playoffs without any obvious flaw (besides maybe first base), it's clear that the Rangers are a legitimate great team in the regular season that is built for success in the playoffs.
The trade for Cliff Lee solidified that conclusion for many people, and for good reason. Lee gives the team a type of ace it has never had and this team looks focused and ready to finally give DFW baseball fans something to cheer about in October.
As the marketing campaign in the area states: It's Time.