With the 2011 MLB playoffs drawing near, the Texas Rangers added to their division lead on the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend to a comfortable 4.5 games. While not a lock, if the Rangers go just 5-5 in their last 10 games the Angels would have to go 10-1 to overtake them out West.
With that said, the Rangers can now begin to look toward future playoff matchups. While there is still plenty of time for things to change, if the playoffs started today, the Rangers would start on the road against the New York Yankees, the team they knocked out in the ALCS just a year ago.
On paper it does not even look close. The Yankees bring in the best record in the American League, a large advantage in the head-to-head meetings and they boast 27 World Championships to the Rangers' zero. But as the 2010 Rangers proved, games are not won on paper and prestige but on the dirt diamond.
So how do the two teams match up?
The New York Yankees appear to be the Rangers polar opposite in terms of how they assemble their starting rotation. While the Rangers field a rotation that consists of three starters under the age of 27 and none over the age of 31, the Yankees have a rotation that possesses pitchers who are 38, 34, 34 and 30.
The Yankees' average age of their five starters who made at least 20 starts is 32 years old. They can thank 24-year-old Ivan Nova for making them appear to be even younger. The Yankees value experience.
To put it another way, CC Sabathia has thrown over 2,357 innings in his career. The Rangers entire starting rotation has thrown 2,280.
Despite their age difference, the Rangers and the Yankees compare pretty equally.
Sabathia and C.J. Wilson are the unquestioned No. 1 starters on their respective teams, but after that you don't know what you're getting.
While Derek Holland and Ivan Nova have both been outstanding this season, they are still making their first playoff appearances as starters. Will the cupcake schedule that Nova has had to face the last three months hurt him once he faces a team that knows how to win? Will Holland revert back to his inconsistent early season form? No one knows.
If you're the Yankees, who do you start after that? You have 38-year-old Bartolo Colon who has come out of nowhere to give the Yankees a solid No. 3 option. But will his old arm be able to retire the hot Rangers bats? Then there are A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes. They both have the stuff to be front-line starters but have struggled mightily with inconsistency. Freddy Garcia has been decent throughout the year, but he is not the type of starter who worries you.
The Rangers have their own troubles. Alexi Ogando had an excellent first half but has hit a wall in the second half. Will the 2011 All-Star even make the playoff rotation? Colby Lewis was one of the heroes for the 2010 team, but he has struggled with allowing the deep ball. That's not a good sign against a power team like the Yankees. Then there is Matt Harrison. He, like the Yankees' Garcia, has a good year, but no one knows which Harrison will show up in the playoffs.
Advantage: Texas Rangers
This is as close to a push as you can get, but with the trio of Wilson, Holland and Harrison firing on all cylinders, the Rangers get the edge. The Yankees don't have that reliable third starter, so the advantage goes to the Rangers
Trying to pick the better offense between these two is really like splitting hairs. Both teams are filled with firepower up and down the lineup and also have the speed factor to put pressure on opposing pitchers.
The Yankees lead the majors in home runs and walks, score the second-most runs and are in the top five in stolen bases. They are about as complete and loaded of an offense as you can get behind Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson.
The Rangers have a pretty darn good offense as well. Texas ranks first in batting average, second in home runs, third in runs scored, fifth in stolen bases and they have also have the fewest strike outs in the American League.
They possess the reigning AL MVP in Josh Hamilton and appear to have a candidate this year in Michael Young. Ian Kinsler combines speed, power and patience at the plate to set the tone at the top of the lineup. When your No. 5 through 7 hitters are Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, you're sure to put up some runs.
Advantage: New York Yankees
By the slightest of margins I give the Yankees the edge because of their ability to draw walks. Getting the Rangers' young starters to throw a lot of pitches is the way to beat them, and that's what the Yankees are so good at.
While the Rangers dramatically improved their bullpen with the additions at the trade deadline, the Yankees are in a class of their own.
Mariano Rivera will end the season as the all-time leader in saves, and is historically known as one of the most clutch playoff performers ever. If you have to face Rivera in the playoffs, you might as well start looking to the next game.
David Robertson is one of the best relievers in the game. Period. He owns a 1.14 ERA and averages an insane 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Behind him there is Rafael Soriano, who was the most highly sought after closer on the market this past winter. You want no part of this bullpen.
The Texas Rangers are no slouches in this area either, with Neftali Feliz, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara shutting down opponents in the late innings. This was not the case in July, when the Rangers bullpen could not close out games to save their lives. Props to Jon Daniels going out and improving his ballclub without giving up any can't-miss prospects.
Uehara could be the one to watch. He was acquired from the Orioles at the deadline and has a history of shutting down the AL East's heavy hitters.
Advantage: New York Yankees
The Rangers have an excellent bullpen, but the Yankees are just better. They hold the clear advantage in this area.
While it appears the Yankees hold the clear advantage going into the playoffs, the Rangers were in a similar situation last October. We all remember how that turned out.
Should things stay the same, the Rangers and Yankees would be the must-see matchup of the ALDS.
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