After an 11-year hiatus, the Rangers are American League West Champions again and back in the playoffs. It is the fourth trip to the post season for the Rangers, but it will be the first time they don't have to face the Yankees in the first round.
The Rangers are just 1-9 in playoff games, and just because this will be their first playoff game against a team other than New York, it doesn't get any easier. While Tampa Bay did drop to third last season, they were just one win from the same record they had in 2008, when they reached the World Series.
In 2008, the Rays won both games played at Tropicana Field, and one of two at US Cellular to defeat the Chicago White Sox 3-1. They then used seven games to defeat the Red Sox on their way to the World Series.
There are no remnants of the 1999 Texas Rangers left at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, except for the No. 26, retired for then manager Johnny Oats. Oats passed away from cancer. He was awarded the 1996 AL Manager of the Year award when the Rangers first won the AL West. That team had an identical 90-72 record to the 2010 Rangers.
This season the Rangers were either a team who could score runs at will and had pitching no one could touch, or a team where runs were hard to come by and pitchers were getting hit all over the ballpark.
The Rangers acquired left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee for just this situation, to win playoff games. Lee will be the Game 1 starter with C.J. Wilson throwing Game 2, and Colby Lewis going in Game 3. Lee went 4-0 in last year’s playoffs with a 1.56 ERA.
Texas will also look to a healthy Josh Hamilton to lead the offense. After sitting out an extended period of time with cracked ribs, Hamilton came back to the line-up in the last games of the season and showed significant signs of health, including a home run. But with an offense as potent as the Rangers, all of the weight can’t be put on the MVP candidate’s shoulders.
Expect Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero to play big roles for the Rangers if they are going to be successful in the 2010 Playoffs. If people like Elvis Andrus, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler get on in front of them those guys have the ability to bring them around.
While certain players for the Rays came out towards the end of the season to complain about attendance at Tropicana Field, don’t expect that to be a problem in the playoffs. In 2008 “The Trop” was consistently full and always loud with fans encouraged to bring and ring cow bells during the game.
The Rangers have made headlines for being successful for the first time in 11 years. But with this team success will be measured not only by getting there, but by winning. The team put together by GM John Daniels and president, and now owner, Nolan Ryan, is one built to win. Manager Ron Washington has the team relaxed and having fun in the clubhouse and on the field.
Of course making it to the playoffs after such a drought is a success. Just making it will put them on the same level as the 1996, 1998, and 1999 teams. If the Rangers want to continue moving forward they will have to find a way not to win just one playoff game. But three and move on to possibly face the Yankees in an effort to exorcise even more playoff demons.
The Last Time
The last time the Rangers were in the playoffs the hits leader was Pudge Rodriguez with 199. The RBI and home run leader was Rafael Palmeiro with 148 and 47. Tom Goodwin led the team with 39 stolen bases. Todd Zeile and Rusty Greer tied for the team lead with 41 doubles. Pudge was the youngest of the regular starters at 27-years-old and Palmeiro beat out Mark McLemore as the oldest player by a month at 34-years-old.
Aaron Sele led the team with 18 wins and in strikeouts with 186. Rick Helling led the team with a 4.84 ERA and a team leading 219.1 innings pitched. John Wetteland converted 43 saves.
This time around, Michael Young and Josh Hamilton tied for the hits lead with 186. Hamilton also lead in home runs with 32 and batting average of .359. Vladimir Guerrero led the team with 115 RBIs. Elvis Andrus, who lead the team with 32 stolen bases, is also the youngest player at 21-years-old. The oldest player was Guerrero at 35.
New to the starting rotation, C.J. Wilson led the team with 15 wins and a 3.35 ERA. He also led with 204 innings pitched. Colby Lewis led the team with 196 strike outs. Close Neftali Feliz saved 40 games for the Rangers, a record for a rookie closer.