He never used to smile like this in the "Big A" when he played here. I guess he just wasn't wearing the right jersey. Way to go, Napoli! We might not be here if it weren't for you.
Texas Rangers fans the world over will be drunk off of the delicious double shot provided by Mike Napoli's home-field advantage-giving long-ball beatdown of the hapless Halos for quite sometime.
The sight of that second bomb sent me straight through my roof, and in a good way. The story lines are already written on this one. Former Angel, Mike Napoli, traded for little more than a big pile of money that can't hit any more, ends up playing against his former team's biggest nemesis, the Texas Rangers.
And as if that wasn't enough, the "MAN" (Napoli's initials, appropriately enough) blows up their pitching all year long, then slams their season shut, while snapping their spine...in their own house. There it was. The premise for the only article I was going to write tonight. I'm sure I wasn't alone.
And then the Red Sox blew a one-run lead in Baltimore with two outs, and two freaking strikes on some dude I've never heard of, and at almost exactly the same time Evan "Hey! That's my cap!" Longoria blew the lid off the postseason, and dealt Boston fans yet another hand in their very own "wicked pissuh" of a poker game, aka Red Sox choke sessions.
And now, we sportswriters the world over, put down our collective beer cans and crank up the coffee pot, because there's suddenly a plethora of baseball news to cover. And yes, El Guapo from Three Amigos, I understand what "plethora" means.
What a fitting end to a great season. Not just for the Texas Rangers or the Tampa Bay Rays. But for Major League Baseball as a whole (well maybe excluding the Astros and Twins). Who would've ever thought that a Wild Card race—in both leagues—would go down to the last day and even had a chance for four teams to force a 163rd game?
Personally, as a Texas Rangers fan, I wanted to play the Red Sox. Really bad. Who wouldn't? They were an absolute train wreck in slow-mo, loaded with nuclear weapons and creeping ever slower (frame by frame) towards a giant brick wall known as the postseason.
And, as noted in previous articles, this isn't the matchup that I thought was going to happen. I thought it'd be Yankees versus Rangers, an ALDS mirror-match of last year's ALCS, but in a more compact, five-game series.
Who'd of thought the Detroit Tigers wouldn't have won home field advantage? I mean, Verlander actually lost a game in that scenario? Honestly, I'm an optimistic Rangers fan, but c'mon, if you had told me they'd win six straight to close out the year—sweeping the Angels, in Anaheim for the final three—I would have carried on the conversation with you just long enough to call the staff from the insane asylum to come pick you up and get you back in the padded room where you belonged.
Well now that we're all free from the shackles of our metaphoric strait jackets, I guess I'd better hit you up with a look into the 2011 ALDS matchup between the Wild Card Champion Tampa Bay Rays and the AL West Champion Texas Rangers.
I don't like the Rays. They scare me, but you've got to love their late-season run. It's been truly epic.
You don't really want to play the hottest team in baseball in the first round. About two hours ago, I would have been referring to the Texas Rangers. And they are, arguably, still hotter right now than the Rays, but, wow, to win a playoff berth on your home field...during game 162...on an extra-inning walk-off home run by your superstar third baseman...after being down 7-0...in the eighth inning...against the Yankees!
Talk about the importance of home field advantage. Don't get me wrong, I remember quite vividly the shock and utter frustration of watching the Rays tear the Rangers apart for Games 3 and 4 in Arlington last year. As I mentioned in the previous slide, and am bound to mention several more times, this is not the matchup I wanted.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but to me, Clifton Phifer Lee was the only reason we weren't swept by the Rays last year. In the most intense game I'd ever seen up to that point in my Ranger-fandom (about 25 years), I still had utter confidence that Cliff Lee would win that decisive Game 5.
I feel confident in C.J. Wilson too, but, you know, it's different. He's the new ace, he was good in the playoffs last year, but he's not as undefeated and almost un-hittable as Lee was in the postseason up to that point last year (the freak show Giants and their own brand of hitless wonders, would eventually shatter his visage).
Still, despite my anxieties about playing the Rays, the Texas Rangers can still beat the Tampa Bay Rays. And they can do it without Cliff Lee.
Winning is all about sacrifice. And as long as Holland continues to win, I guess we can all put up with his horrible teen-stache.
With Ron Washington, and his "go with the gut" style of game management, nothing is ever set in stone. About the only thing you can take to the bank in terms of rotation right now, is that C.J. Wilson is the Game 1 starter.
Now with the Rays, rookie left-hander Matt Moore was scheduled to throw tomorrow if there was a one-game playoff needed. I'm pretty sure he could have beaten the worst starting pitcher in baseball, John Lackey, the Red Sox's slated starter. However, I'm not so sure Joe Maddon would start him in Game 1 of an ALDS. I sure hope he does, but it won't happen.
James Shields (the awesome 2011 version not the pretty bad 2010 version) has arguably regained ace status, after outstanding lefty David Price took over the reins last year.
I'll update this once we get some current information on the Rays staff, in terms of how the rotation will be set for the postseason, but James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, I feel, are a better front three than C.J. Wilson, Derek, Holland and Colby Lewis.
I don't like to say this, or even think this, but I feel it's true: The Tampa Bay Rays' rotation is better than the Texas Rangers'.
So how could I possibly give the Rangers the nod in this category? Well, it's not easy on me, because I can't. But the awe-inducing world of psychology might just provide solace.
Yes, I can hear you. I know what you're thinking, and if the following italicized dialogue from my view of the typical fan's perspective is any indicator, then we're all a little uneasy with my assessment:
"Aw crap, Tim. Psychology? You're grasping at strings man. Last thing I knew, Sigmund freaking Freud never helped anyone throw a freaking strike, or hit a freaking curve. I'd have rather you've said 'sabermetrics' at least that makes some sense. You ever seen 'Moneyball?' Well, Billy Beane wrote that movie and it's all about math uh matics..."
No, I'm sticking with psychology. The Rays have been in the playoff mindset and have been playing playoff-caliber games now for several weeks. It's no stretch to state that this is draining on the psyche and they might find themselves spent when faced with the cold, hard, reality of playing the Rangers' nuclear lineup and more-than-capable pitching staff, in Texas.
Whoa boy. The Texas Rangers need Game 1. I mean, it's a must-win.
And because it's in my article's title (and because it's true) it sure would be nice to have Cliff Lee for this series.
Don't discount the Rangers' playoff savvy, however. Colby Lewis easily could have won the 2010 ALCS MVP with his masterful performance, and he was the lone Rangers' winner in the World Series.
All hot streaks have to come to an end. If the Rangers can manage a win this Friday night in Arlington, the series will be theirs. If not, the Rays might continue to roll. That sounds overly simplistic, but that's how I see it going down.
His defense is outstanding, his ability at the plate—especially down the stretch—has been even more important.
The Texas Rangers' offense is far superior to the Rays. This is an unarguable point. When a team averages more than 3,000 fans per game in attendance, it allows them extravagant things. Like a sizable payroll. Money well spent on free agents, much like Adrian Beltre.
The Rays, who average, if my math is correct, 27 fans per game, do have their fair share of great players. "Clutch" bats if you will.
Although there are many who feel that the entire realm of "clutch" performances don't exist, I for one, see some validity in them. The Evan Longoria walk-off "bomb" (placed in parentheses because it maybe traveled 317 feet) is most certainly clutch, given the circumstances.
But still, talent is talent. The Rangers are better hitters.
Not only is the Rangers' lineup much stouter than the Rays, it's been red-hot and running on all cylinders, and whatever other cliches you can think of.
If the Rangers get solid pitching, and hit like they're capable of, they'll advance to the ALCS to face the Detroit Tigers (I put that in there just to tick off Yankees fans; it's so fun).
If, the Texas Rangers' offense succumbs to the malady of ineffectiveness, if, as Pedro Ceranno from the "Major League" franchise would say: "Bats are afraid." Then it will take more than the sacrifice of a whole chicken for the Rangers to stave off elimination.
I like the Rangers' lineup top to bottom much better than the Rays. I'll expound on this in much greater detail later on today. Check it out.
Yes, the Rangers can and will beat the Tampa Bay Rays in this year's ALDS. The roles have been reversed in this go around, which will effectively neutralize the whole "Cliff Lee doesn't pitch here anymore" effect.
In the end, the Rangers' offense will be too much for the Rays' rotation, which, in many ways, is far superior to the Rangers' playoff rotation.
It's bold, and it's backed up by my own aforementioned anxieties about this matchup, but ultimately I feel that the Rangers can once again use the Rays as a springboard into the ALCS to take on (and hopefully) take down the Detroit Tigers.
Perhaps this time, the Rangers can bring home a World Series title. And not only can they have success without Cliff Lee, they might even have what it takes to beat Mr. Lee in what would be a fantastic World Series battle between the Phillies and Rangers.
Who knows? It could happen.
The Boston Red Sox might disappoint (amazingly this was written before their monumental collapse...Days before even!)
Controversial Moments for the Texas Rangers (containing stories so controversial, that I'm not even allowed to talk about...)
The Best Baseball Players from the Best Baseball States (doesn't garner nearly the reads the hours of research should have provided! You can help change that)