Rangers Begin Their Planning for the Playoffs

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2011

West looks won, so time to look at postseason lineup


By Dic Humphrey




The Rangers return Friday night for the final regular season home games this weekend; a three-game series with Seattle. A week ago, there was concern over making the playoffs as Texas held a three-game lead over Los Angeles with 13 to play. By the middle of this week, the division race was all but mathematically wrapped up. The clinching game will likely happen this weekend, if it hasn’t already happened by the time you read this article. The Rangers’ attention now turns to different areas.


As for the playoff roster, the starting rotation will be shortened to four pitchers, creating an additional roster spot for a position player. It’s possible, but unlikely, that the bullpen gets reduced from seven to six to create a 15th position player roster spot.


Who sits?

Selecting the odd man out of the starting rotation will be difficult, and at this point is anyone’s guess. All five starting pitchers have done well, evidenced by each having at least 13 wins. Based purely on performance over the entire season, Colby Lewis should be the starter that is not in the playoff rotation. He has the highest ERA. There is speculation that he has been playing through a hip injury.

Alexi Ogando is the other most likely candidate to be deleted. He has equaled Lewis’ win total and has an ERA almost a run lower. However, he has struggled for most of the second half after his remarkable first three months that landed him on the All-Star team. Exhaustion as his innings total has mounted to a career high and throwing mechanics that are amiss are blamed for the lesser performance.


Manager Ron Washington usually prefers veterans, so he likely opts for Lewis over Ogando. However, Lewis was especially disappointing in his start last Saturday in Seattle, where he surrendered six runs in a pitcher friendly ballpark. Ogando was very good in his last start, definitely a return to his first half form.


Ideally, C.J. Wilson starts Game One. Derek Holland is clearly the second best starter at this point. He turned in his fifth consecutive quality start Tuesday night, which dropped his ERA below 4.00. His rotation spot was definitely in jeopardy when he had a disastrous start against Florida on July 2, throwing 46 pitches and retiring just two batters. Since that date, Holland is 9-1 in 14 starts to improve to 15-5 on the season. Matt Harrison seemingly has returned to form after getting skipped in the rotation for extra rest earlier this month and probably has secured a playoff rotation spot.


The exact order for the Division Series, though, will be dependent on how much the starters are needed over the final games of the season, as well as matchups with the opposing team.


There will definitely be a scramble for the six or seven bullpen spots. Closer Neftali Feliz, setup man Mike Adams and lefthander Darren Oliver are clearly in. The odd man out of the rotation likely gets another spot. That leaves three bullpen spots for Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez, Scott Feldman, Darren O’Day, Mark Lowe, Yoshi Tatayama and possibly Michael Kirkman.


Can’t keep him out

As for the lineup, David Murphy has played so well in Nelson Cruz’s absence that he has staked a claim to a starting outfield spot, at least against right-handed pitchers. Josh Hamilton will slide from left to center, Murphy will take over in left, and Cruz will be in right field. Against lefties, Murphy may sit in favor of Craig Gentry in center field with Hamilton moving back to left.


Another interesting decision will be at catcher. Yorvit Torrealba throws better than Mike Napoli, while Napoli has a startling catcher’s ERA. Both have hit well, though Napoli has been the better hitter with more power. When the opponents start a left-handed pitcher, both can play with one at catcher, and the other at DH, with Michael Young at first. Against righties, Mitch Moreland probably plays first, moving Young to DH and with either Torrealba or Napoli behind the plate. Napoli probably gets the nod as he is hitting .389 since the All-Star break to lead the Major Leagues.


As for the additional position player that gets added, one possibility is catcher Matt Treanor, whose inclusion would give the Rangers a backup if both Napoli and Torrealba play with one at DH. The Rangers would not have to give up the DH if their catcher was injured.


The most likely playoff scenario for Texas is either opening at home against the Red Sox or Rays or opening on the road in New York. The deciding factor is the better record between the Rangers and Tigers, with a tie going to the Tigers. If Los Angeles miraculously slips past both Tampa Bay and Boston for the Wild Card, New York plays the Angels and Texas and Detroit will square off.


The Rangers, then, still have incentive to win games even after clinching the West Division championship as they chase Detroit. The first round looks better with home field advantage. Both teams had identical records Wednesday morning. This could put the Rangers in a sticky position next week in Anaheim. Assuming the division is won, they will want to juggle their starting rotation to set up the optimum for the playoffs. At the same time, they probably will need wins to top Detroit. Also, if the Angels are still in the Wild Card race, the Rangers will need to put their best lineup forward in fairness to the other teams chasing that playoff spot.


Texas will again fail to reach the 3 million attendance mark this season, but will exceed 2.9 million with a good chance of setting a new attendance record. The team is about 125,000 short of the franchise record set in 1997, so it needs a little less than 42,000 per game this weekend to break that record.

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