The season is far from over, but with a series win against the Angels this coming weekend the Texas Rangers can start to turn an eye towards postseason play. With the way the American League is panning out, they will not have to worry too much about surprises. With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox dominance, they have almost assured themselves a berth in the playoffs.
With both of these teams being in the American League East, it means they can't eliminate each other in the first round of the playoffs. That being said, the Rangers will not have to worry about facing the probable Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in the first round. Nor will they face the surprising Cleveland Indians or Chicago White Sox, or whoever surfaces from the crowded American League Central race.
The Rangers will continue the trend of facing the AL East in the first round which they have done every year they've made the playoffs. Choosing between the Yankees and Red Sox on who you would rather play is no easy decision. Both of these teams are loaded with offense, experience, and have two of the best bullpens in the game.
But if the Rangers absolutely had to choose, I believe they would choose the Yankees, since they provide them the best chance of advancing in the playoffs. Here are 10 reasons they would rather play the Bronx Bombers in the first round.
I'm assuming, of course, the Rangers beat out the AL Central candidate for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and have home field advantage in the first round
We all saw last year what the Rangers were capable of as the underdogs and things will not be much different this season. The Red Sox enterred the season as favorites after their big signings of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez and behind their dominant top three pitchers.
While Clay Bucholz is injured and Crawford has not performed up to expectations, they are still the favorites to advance to the World Series, even if they are the Wild Card. With Jon Lester and Josh Beckett they have two pitchers capable of shutting an offense down every night, and the Red Sox offense is one of the top three in all of baseball. Add in the national media and that makes the Red Sox first-round favorites.
Despite the fact that the Rangers are better this season than last, they still enter the playoffs without Cliff Lee in that rotation. Three of their starting pitchers have zero playoff experience as a starter and Alexi Ogando is well over his career high for innings pitched. Let's face it, they're not going to be the favorites even if they end up with the best record in baseball.
That's just fine with the Rangers. They were the darkhorse last season and made it all the way to the World Series. Even without Cliff Lee, they are a more complete team this season and an even more dangerous opponent.
Josh Beckett is one of the premier postseason performers in recent history. He is 7-3 in his career in the playoffs with a 3.07 ERA and has a World Series MVP award sitting on his mantle.
However, the flame thrower has struggled against the Rangers in his career to the tune of a 5.53 career ERA and a WHIP over 1.44 in seven career starts. Josh Hamilton, the man picked just ahead of Beckett in the 1999 draft, owns a .500 batting average against the hurler with two home runs in 12 at-bats.
The postseason is a completely different season, but the Rangers past success against Beckett should prove helpful.
You have to wonder how much longer John Lackey will have a job in Boston. The big righty has an ERA that is not just bad, it's awful. At 6.02, he's giving up a touchdown every nine innings and has a WHIP north of 1.5. Hard to win with numbers like that.
Yet he still owns a spot in the Red Sox rotation and is a possible fourth starter in a playoff matchup with the Rangers. As bad as he has been this season, he is actually worse against the Rangers. He is 11-13 with a 6.07 ERA in 34 games against the Rangers for his career.
With Lackey being the No. 4 option, the Rangers will face a pitcher in Boston that they know they own and that goes a long way towards confidence on the road.
The Rangers have always been known for their offense and in order to beat Boston in the playoffs, their big bats have to step up. In the 2010 ALDS it was Nelson Cruz carrying the load with a .400 batting average and three home runs in the five-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays. In the ALCS against the Yankees it was Josh Hamilton batting .350 with four homeruns to pace the Rangers to victory.
Lucky for them Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz have feasted on Red Sox pitching for their career.
Hamilton owns a .330/.403/.569 line in 28 games against the Sox including four home runs and 23 RBI. Cruz has fared even better with a .417/.479/.798 line in 24 games with seven home runs and 24 RBI.
The success of these two sluggers are paramount to a return to the ALCS, and against Boston they seem to be in their comfort zone.
When Cliff Lee left Texas for the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason, C.J. Wilson was named the "ace" of the staff. Questions surrounded whether he could duplicate his amazing first season as a starter after leaving the bullpen.
Wilson has answered all of those questions and more; as he has become the ace the staff has needed. Wilson leads the team in ERA, wins and strikeouts while being named to his first career All-Star game. He is important as anyone on a team looking to advance past the first round for the second straight year.
Wilson would pitch twice in a five-game series—should it go all five games. You want your pitcher who is starting 40 percent of your ALDS games to have a good track record against your opponent. That's exactly what Wilson has against Boston.
Wilson has fared better against the Red Sox than any other team and possesses a 4-1 record with a 1.43 ERA and 42 strikeouts in just over 43 innings. Should he, for some reason start game four in Boston, he has done pretty well at Fenway. In 16 innings, Wilson has a 1.65 ERA and has only allowed three runs.
While his 3.80 ERA against the Yankees is not bad, it does not even compare to his success against the Red Sox.
Confidence can go a long way to determining who wins any given game. The Rangers went into the ALDS last season with the confidence that they had a pitcher—Cliff Lee—who could go toe-to-toe with the Rays' David Price.
In the ALCS against the Yankees, they knew that even though the Yankees technically had a better record, the Rangers had home-field advantage. They also split the season series with the Bronx Bombers, letting them know they could hang with the most storied franchise in all of sports.
With the Red Sox, the Rangers know they can win. They have proven it.
In the last two seasons, the Rangers are 10-4 against Boston including a season-opening sweep at home earlier this season. They have won big, came from behind and won the close games against the Red Sox, something they can not say the same about the Yanks.
They are just 2-7 against the Yankees this season.
Going on the road in the playoffs is always a tough thing. When you do have to go into a place like Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, you want to avoid the shutdown pitchers like Lester and Beckett. Luckily for the Rangers, they will have to face Lester and Beckett in Arlington, and not in Boston, where it would be extremely difficult to get away with a win.
Instead they would face John Lackey and Erik Bedard, two guys the Rangers are very familiar with from their time spent in the AL West. We've already discussed Lackey's lack of success against the Rangers, but what about Bedard?
Bedard has been decently effective against the Rangers with a 3.22 ERA and a 4-3 career record. However, his success in Boston is what is lacking—his 5.95 ERA in Fenway is his worst ERA at any ballpark.
Avoiding Lester and Beckett in Boston and instead facing a pitcher who struggles against the Rangers, and another that struggles at Fenway, is very comforting to the Rangers and their chances to go deep in the playoffs.
Everyone knows about the Rangers offensive power, but a major part of their game is aggressiveness on the base paths. They have 112 stolen bases on the season, good enough for fifth-most in all of baseball. They pride themselves on taking extra bases when possible.
This is bad news for the Red Sox, as they have given up the second most stolen bases in baseball by allowing 112. They have the second most passed balls with 21, but many of them can be attributed to knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield. They also have turned the second fewest double plays in the majors. All of these add up to more possibilities of taking an extra base and putting more pressure on the pitcher.
If the Rangers are going to advance to the ALCS, they're going to do it with being aggressive and Boston enables them to be the most aggressive.
The Yankees bullpen could be one of the best of all-time; and going into the sixth or seventh inning trailing, it almost means certain defeat. This is no disrespect to the Boston bullpen as it too is loaded with Johnathon Papelbon, Matt Albers and Daniel Bard.
However, the Yankees currently possess five relievers with an ERA under three. Two of those, David Robertson and Luis Ayala, are under two. They have the best closer of all-time and one of the best postseason performers in Mariano Rivera, and they also own a top seven or eight closer as a set-up man in Rafael Soriano.
The Yankees are stacked in the pen and the Rangers have shown at different points in the season that they struggle to produce runs until the late innings. Facing the Red Sox pen, although great, presents a more advantageous scenario.
Choosing between the Yankees offense and the Red Sox offense is like choosing whether you want to be punched in the face or the gut—neither one is going to turn out very well. The Red Sox are first in batting average, hits, doubles, and second in runs and home runs. While they possess all of these gaudy stats, the Rangers have been able to solve this high-powered offense.
The same can not be said about their luck with the Yankees. The Rangers have been outscored by 27 runs in nine games against the Yanks so far this year. When you're home run prone like the Rangers pitching staff is, you don't want to see the home run leaders in the playoffs—the Yankees.
Either way, both offenses are high powered and the Red Sox are due to break through at some point. However, the Yankees have already proven they can put runs on the board against these Rangers pitchers.
Micah is a Featured Columnist covering the Texas Rangers for Bleacherreport.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Micah_Powell.