Michael Young had two two-run doubles in a nine-run third inning, helping the Texas Rangers beat the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series and head to their second consecutive World Series. Nelson Cruz easily won the ALCS MVP after hitting six homers in the six-game set.
Now the Rangers have some time to gear up for the World Series. They can allow banged-up stars Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre to rest a day or two and they can rest their weary bullpen.
Whether the St. Louis Cardinals or Milwaukee Brewers rise to meet them on Wednesday, the Rangers deserve to be the favorites in the Fall Classic despite their loss last season. Here are 10 reasons why.
Nelson Cruz finished his second ALCS with the best career slugging percentage in Championship Series history. His 13 RBI broke the record in a single series—so did his six bombs.
If legends are born in October, Cruz—who would be a superstar but for his inability to stay healthy—is headed for that sort of status. In the meantime, he has established himself as perhaps the premier impact power hitter of the postseason and will strike fear into the heart of either National League pitching staff.
One component of understanding baseball remains relatively unexplored by too many fans and analysts: Teams score in different ways in baseball, too.
You'll hear no end of discussion on football and basketball telecasts about stylistic differences between teams. The Packers are a prolific offense, but as everyone knows, they do it almost exclusively through the air. The Chicago Bulls score by taking the air out of the basketball and running a slow, grinding half-court offense. Basketball fans know this well.
Few know, though, that both the Cardinals and Brewers have short-sequence offenses. This does not merely mean that they hit home runs, though of course they do. It also means that a large percentage of their offensive value is concentrated in a few great hitters.
That can be a very effective approach, but it also lends itself to running hot and cold. If Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday and Prince Fielder had not combined to reach base 74 times in 160 plate appearances this postseason, neither of the two teams would be in good shape offensively.
By contrast, the Rangers scarcely have a weakness in their lineup. They all hit, they all draw walks and most of them have power. Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are also elite base runners. Texas can score in more diverse ways than either of their prospective opponents.
Josh Hamilton stopped the only mild momentum the Tigers built Saturday in the third inning with a sensational catch and to a large extent, that typifies the best Rangers advantage in the coming series.
It's not only Hamilton—the Rangers are almost universally athletic and polished defenders. Hamilton, Cruz, Andrus and Kinsler are solidly better than average. Adrian Beltre rates among the best glove men at third base, ever.
Neither the Cardinals or the Brewers are a Top 15 defensive team. Texas might be Top 5.
In three playoff starts, C.J. Wilson has really struggled to even keep the Rangers in games. In fewer than 16 innings, Wilson has given up 14 earned runs on 21 hits, including six homers and eight walks. The Rangers managed just one win in their ace's starts through two rounds, but survived that to get this far.
At least once in the World Series, Wilson will have his good stuff and steal a win for Texas.
By now, you should have heard the narrative. Mike Napoli is a Ranger mostly because the Angels decided they could not tolerate his defensive shortcomings at catcher despite his superior stick for the position. It turns out that it would have been a very fine tradeoff for the Angels, now that Napoli has taken the last step to elite status as an overall slugger, to keep him and plug him in there.
Now, though, it hardly even feels like a tradeoff. Napoli is becoming a pretty darn good defensive catcher over the course of the second half of this season, with a sturdy arm and a fair intellect for the job. The Rangers will have to give up the DH in a number of games in the Series, but the impact of that lessens a bit when they can confidently trot out Napoli as a true positional guy.
Most table-setters in today's game are functionally useless if they go 8-for-39 in 10 games without an extra base hit. Not Andrus.
The Rangers shortstop drew six walks (against five strikeouts) over the 10 games of the AL playoffs and scored five runs. Andrus is an elite base runner, not only from a stolen-base perspective but from all other angles. He is also a very gifted shortstop, the kind who might come up with a huge double play at a key moment as the Series progresses.
No matter who you are, Elvis Andrus has six ways to beat you on a ball diamond.
The Rangers' starting pitchers have a 5.62 ERA in 49 2/3 innings thus far in the postseason, which has applied pressure to the Rangers' bullpen to succeed early and often. The relief corps has met that challenge, posting a 2.34 ERA and claiming all four Rangers wins in the ALCS.
One reason is their bevy of pitchers who are stretched out enough to go four or more innings if necessary in key situations. Scott Feldman has done it for them and so has Alexi Ogando. Matt Harrison and/or Derek Holland might appear in relief as a long lefty. Texas's flexibility here is a considerable advantage over even the Cardinals' very deep bullpen.
Obviously, the Rangers are ready for Prince Fielder if Milwaukee advances past the Cardinals, because they have Mike Gonzalez in the fold as a dominant lefty specialist. Being able to use both Darren Oliver and Gonzalez in key spots against that lone left-hitting threat for Milwaukee would be a dream scenario for Ron Washington.
If St. Louis wins, though, the Rangers can still profit handsomely from Gonzalez's and Oliver's presence. Consider Lance Berkman. Throughout his career, the switch-hitting slugger has always preferred to bat left-handed and face right-handed hurlers. In fact, for his career, he has an OPS north of 1.000 as a left-handed hitter, but stands at .777 from the right side.
Being able to push him into the wrong batter's box without having to have a southpaw face Albert Pujols or Allen Craig is a huge advantage for Texas.
The Rangers have all manner of options in terms of lining up their rotation and bullpen for the Series, not least because even the pitchers who went Saturday now will pitch on three or more days' rest.
One wise course might be to remove one of the two left-tossing pitchers who have been in their playoff rotation to this point in favor of Ogando, who has been filthy all October and is best suited to get out Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and David Freese.
Derek Holland is the more logical candidate for a bullpen move and would join the ranks of lefties available to face Berkman and Jon Jay if needed. Ogando could make a huge impact as the Game 3 or 4 starter.
Eager to return from a strained hamstring, right-handed reliever Mark Lowe could make the World Series roster in place of struggling righty Koji Uehara. That re-opens a corner of the bullpen Ron Washington closed when he relegated Uehara to the doghouse and allows Texas the opportunity to do something like this, if necessary:
- Wilson goes four innings.
- Feldman gets five outs.
- Oliver finishes sixth with big matchup out.
- Lowe pitches seventh.
- Adams gets two outs in eighth.
- Gonzalez gets last out of eighth against Fielder or Berkman.
- Feliz slams the door in the ninth.
Got a bit dreamy there, but that kind of flexibility it hard to come by and Lowe would lend it.