MLB Playoffs 2011: 5 Reasons to Root for the Texas Rangers

Nathaniel Jue@nathanieljueSenior Writer IIOctober 11, 2011

MLB Playoffs 2011: 5 Reasons to Root for the Texas Rangers

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    The 2011 MLB playoffs have moved onto the championship series, leaving a mere four teams left to compete for the a trip to the World Series. With high-priced teams like the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies knocked out of the playoffs, casual fans may struggle to find a team left to root for.

    The relatively unknown Milwaukee Brewers face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. While the Detroit Tigers square off against the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers.

    As the pressure builds up in these best-of-seven series, so does the excitement, the intensity and the joy.

    For those 26 teams that are no longer playing, 26 baseball cities and 26 fan bases who still want to cheer on the glory and prestige of the MLB playoffs, here's five reasons to cheer for the powerful Texas Rangers this postseason.

Cliff Who?

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    Rangers fans were excited when Cliff Lee was snatched up from the Seattle Mariners at the 2010 trading deadline. The most dominant left-hander in baseball's infusion into the rotation, to go with a mighty powerful offense, was like an automatic win each time he took the mound. And in his three starts through the 2010 American League Championship Series, Lee gave up two runs in 24 innings, striking out 34 batters. It was Lee who made Texas slight favorites to beat the pitching-heavy San Francisco Giants in last year’s World Series.

    As nearly everyone knows, the Rangers surprisingly lost the Series in five games. But even more unexpected was the departure of Lee, a free agent, during last offseason. Instead of staying in Arlington to partake in a full season with almost the exact same Rangers squad in 2011, Lee fled to Philadelphia, forming a four-aced Phillies rotation with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. That powerful pitching staff, with a lineup of perennial All-Stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino made for a dream team scenario. The Phillies were odds-on favorites to reach the World Series.

    Despite taking less money to join the Phils, Rangers fans still felt spurned by Lee. Moreover, with the creation of the seemingly most talented and decorated rotation of all time, there was animosity toward the Phillies and Lee for his decision. Much like the assembling of NBA superstars in Miami, many baseball fans resented the Phils for their wealth of talent. Outside of Philly, few were saddened by the Phillies’ loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in this year’s NLDS. Much of the baseball world delighted in the fact that two the teams in MLB that had the highest payrolls—the New York Yankees and the Phillies—did not advance past the first round of the playoffs.

    Meanwhile, Texas fans embrace their Rangers' advancement behind an improved pitching staff during the regular season. This season’s squad posted a 3.79 ERA, a tick better than last year’s 3.93 team ERA. The Rangers lead the league with 99 quality starts and an amazing 19 shutouts. Without Cliff Lee.

    The further the Rangers advance, the more distant Lee is in their rearview mirror. And considering Lee’s performance in last year’s World Series, maybe they are just better without him.

Deep Pitching Staff

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    The Rangers’ starting pitchers aren’t going to jump out at you, as they aren’t exactly household names recognized by the casual baseball fan. But as a unit, they formed the most consistent rotation in the American League.

    The Rangers’ five-man rotation each started a minimum of 29 games and had at least 13 wins. Right-hander Derek Holland, in his first full season in the big leagues, tied for the American League-lead with four shutouts. As a staff, the Texas starting rotation ranked third in ERA and second in opponents’ batting average, while leading the league in wins. Though they do not have marquee aces like the departed Cliff Lee, the Rangers’ rotation is solidly and quietly one of the best in baseball.

    Wilson has led the way the entire season. He is the emotional leader of this rotation on and off the field, hands down. The left-hander has the bravado and confidence to carry the team on his back and stuff to back up his desire to pitch the Rangers to the World Series. He led Texas with 16 wins and a 2.94 ERA and was sixth in the American League in strikeouts.

    Meanwhile, the Rangers’ bullpen has been phenomenal so far in the postseason. If manager Ron Washington feels the urge to call in the relieving corps, he has the confidence that his veterans can shut out the opposition. So far in these playoffs, the Rangers relievers have gone 2-0 with four saves, posing a 2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings.

    From the top line to the back end, this Rangers’ pitching staff is locked and loaded. And Texas will be happy to ride their coattails long enough for their offense to give them the run support they need.

Versatile Offense

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    Offense has never been a problem for the Texas Rangers. Not at the Ballpark in Arlington

    The Rangers’ home stadium provides the greatest advantage for hitters than any other park in all of baseball, especially when it comes to power numbers. Further, the Ballpark in Arlington has seen the most number of home runs hit during the 2011 season, on average 2.80 long balls per game.

    As such, the Rangers’ hitters have feasted all year. With the power and overall talent that the Texas lineup possesses, it’s not surprising to see video game-type numbers.

    Led by 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton, the Rangers ranked first in batting average, second in home runs and OPS and third in the league in runs scored. However, the Rangers are not just a bunch of lumberjacks who hack the ball all over the field. Texas also ranked fourth in the AL in stolen bases and was fifth in sacrifice hits. Needless to say, the entire team is well-rounded and does everything it can to win ball games.

    Proof: Second baseman Ian Kinsler notched his second consecutive 30-30 season in 2011.

    Furthermore, to amplify how great their hitters are, as a team the Rangers had the fewest strikeouts in the league. Quite a talented group of hitters.

    As last night’s Game 2 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers displayed, the Texas Rangers will find a way to beat any team. No matter the circumstance and no matter the method. Rather, it’s just a matter of time.

    Opponents better score early and often, because Texas has the ability to come back at any given moment, with one swing of the bat from one hitter, or one swing of the bat from nine straight hitters.

Josh Hamilton

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    Josh Hamilton is an exciting specimen to watch; a talented ballplayer and certainly an upstanding man. His life on and off the field has been chronicled over recent years, but the fact remains that, when healthy, Hamilton is one of the most versatile and naturally gifted players in baseball.

    For the season, the 2010 AL MVP hit .298 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI. Standard at first glance, but alarming when considering he missed 40 games due to injury. Now, healthy and hitting his stride, Hamilton will be one to watch during the remainder of the playoffs for his five-tool abilities at the plate and in the outfield.

    The left-handed hitter is so smooth on the basepaths or catching a fly ball, it’s fun to watch his enthusiasm and general passion for the game. Should the Rangers advance, look for Hamilton to be a significant contributor to the team’s successes.

Searching for Franchise's First Championship

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    Unbeknownst to some baseball fans, the Texas Rangers are a franchise that has been around for 50 years, originating as the Washington Senators in our nation’s capital. After a brief residence in Minnesota, the Rangers found home in 1971 in Arlington, Texas, where they have been ever since.

    With all of the movement in the first 10 years of existence, it’s difficult for a team to establish continuity with its personnel. As such, there was not a lot of success as a team, or among individual players for the better part of two decades. In fact, it took 35 years, in 1996, before the franchise found its way into its first playoff series.

    The last bit of the millennium eventually saw success, and with it came a growing popularity of baseball in the football-rich state of Texas. American League MVPs and division crowns equated to annual attendance at the Ballpark close to 3 million fans. But they were unfortunate to not win a single playoff series.

    Despite three attempts in the 1990s, the Rangers failed to win a playoff series, and in the ensuing decade, the team fell into a sort of abyss due to financial strains of the organization, as well as the enormous contract offered to free agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

    It was not until the hiring of Ron Washington in 2007 that the Rangers found themselves on an upswing. Though he had not managed at any level prior, the Rangers gambled that Washington’s coaching style and personality would mold nicely with a group of veterans and solid pitching prospects.

    Boy, were they right.

    Last year was the 50th season in the Rangers’ franchise history, and they won finally their first playoff series, advancing all the way to the World Series. Will this be the season that they take the next step? Will the Rangers finally capture their very first championship title?

    Stay tuned to find out.

    The Rangers currently lead the Detroit Tigers two games to none in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.