Listening to the talking heads on TV drone on about who will win the World Series is getting old.
Yes, the Yankees have the star power and tradition. We heard you the first 50 times.
Some analysts prefer the Phillies, seeing their “H2O” rotation as unstoppable, and a handful give their love to the Giants because of their fantastic pitching and defense.
Lost in the shuffle are the Rangers, who everyone seems to assume will whither and die when facing down the Bronx Bombers in the first ALCS in Texas’ history.
And yet, the Rangers have quietly established themselves as a solid pick to win not just the pennant, but the World Series.
Here are 10 reasons why they’ll be popping champagne in Arlington in early November.
During the postseason, it is often said that a team’s best chance to score a key run is when the other club first goes to the bullpen. Just think of the Yankees—was there any time in the last 15 years when Mariano Rivera was less intimidating than whichever replaceable setup man then preceded him?
But the middle innings are not a problem for the Rangers.
Southpaw Darren Oliver may be the Rangers’ relief ace, having thrown 61.2 innings with a 2.64 ERA and a 2.48 FIP—not bad for a guy who just turned 40.
Meanwhile, Darren O’Day has made the best of his first full season with the Rangers. Through 62 innings of work, he posted a 2.03 ERA while holding opponents to a .197 average.
If that’s the best chance the other team has of scoring, the Rangers don’t have much to worry about.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for six months, the Texas Rangers just so happen to have the best hitter in baseball sitting in the middle of their lineup.
J-Ham’s incredible accomplishments need not be repeated here, but I’ll do it anyway: .359/.411/.633 with 32 homers, 95 runs, and 100 RBI—good for a .447 wOBA, 182 wRC+, and 8.0 WAR. And that’s with missing most of September.
No one in baseball can match his offensive prowess, and no one on the other three playoff teams even comes close.
It’s nice to have a hitter like Hamilton, but when it comes down to it, one man can’t be reasonably expected to carry a team’s offense.
Luckily, he’s got some great deputies.
Nelson Cruz broke out in a big way last year, hitting 33 homers in 128 games. His counting stats are down a bit this year because he lost time to injuries, but his .318/.374/.576 slashline was good for a .408 wOBA. Combined with superb defense, he accrued 5.1 WAR.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Guerrero made a huge comeback this season, belting 29 homers with 115 RBI as Texas’ DH while posting a .300/.345/.496 slashline.
Are Cruz and Guerrero really more important than Hamilton? Of course not. But what they symbolize—lineup depth and a multifacted offense—are.
Neftali Feliz wasn’t even expected to get a chance at the closer’s role at the beginning of the season. The young flamethrower usurp the Rangers’ ninth-inning slot; he dazzled in the role.
Feliz racked up 40 saves in 43 chances with a 2.73 ERA, striking out more than a batter per inning and holding opposing batters to a .180 average against.
Feliz’ name may not carry the same intimidating connotations as Mariano Rivera’s or Brad Lidge’s, but a late lead is safe with him.
Tampa Bay didn’t put the bat on the ball very much this week. Led by Cliff Lee’s Herculean 21-K performance in the ALDS, Texas set a record for most strikeouts in a division series.
But even when the Rays managed to make good contact, the balls always seemed to fall into the Rangers’ gloves.
That’s because Texas has one of the best defenses in the game. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus aren’t slouches up the middle, but the true stars are the outfielders; Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Julio Borbon combined for 26.6 UZR.
Traditionally, the Rangers have been an all-hit, no-pitch team. It’s why, until this week, they had never won a postseason series.
This year, though, they have an ace.
After pitching masterfully in last year’s playoffs for the Phillies (4-0, 1.56 ERA), Cliff Lee has had a Cy Young-worthy season for the Mariners and Rangers. He has absolutely dominated in his two postseason starts so far, earning two wins in as many starts against David Price and the Rays with a 1.13 ERA.
There are no sure things in October, but it’s hard to imagine Texas losing with Lee on the hill.
Of course, Cliff Lee wasn’t enough for the Phillies to win the World Series last year—even if he means an automatic win when he pitches, other starters have to take at least four or five games in a seven-game series.
Luckily, the Rangers’ rotation is not just a one-trick pony.
Fresh of two years of dominating the NPB, Colby Lewis has been phenomenal for Texas, posting a 3.72 ERA and a 3.02 K/BB ratio. And FIP (3.55) and tERA (3.52) both suggest that he’s pitched even better than his solid stats show.
And, of course, there’s C.J. Wilson, who Cliff Lee thinks is the best pitcher on the team. Fifteen wins and a 3.35 ERA? Sign me up.
Lee gives them Game One in the bag. But Wilson and Lewis give them good shots at Games Two and Three, and that could end up being more important.