Rangers Make a Return Trip to ALCS

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Vegas taking note of team’s roll

 

By Dic Humphrey

Correspondent

dic.humphrey@yahoo.com

 

Texas clinched the Division Series three games to one, eliminating Tampa Bay with a 4-3 win in St. Petersburg Tuesday afternoon. For the second year in a row, the Rangers advance to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) that begins this Saturday in a location that had yet to be determined as of press time. The Yankees and Tigers were tied two games apiece with the deciding Game 5 to be played Thursday night. If the Yankees won, the Rangers would travel to New York to start the series. If the Tigers won, Detroit would be in Arlington to open the ALCS.

 

The Division Series got off to an auspicious start when the Rays shut out the Rangers 9-0 last Friday. Tampa manager Joe Maddon, to the surprise of many, started rookie left-hander Matt Moore against Texas. Moore is regarded as the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues, but had pitched a grand total of 9 1/3 Major League innings before the game. He was magnificent though, allowing two hits – a single and a double off Josh Hamilton’s bat – over seven shutout innings. Ft. Worth Brewer grad and former Baylor All-American Kelly Shoppach had a career day, banging out three hits, two of which were home runs, scoring three times and driving in five runs.

A big bounce-back

Texas was squarely behind the eight-ball Saturday as the Rays trotted out “Big Game James” Shields to start Game 2. He, too, was magnificent for three innings, taking a 3-0 lead into the fourth. However, Shields had control problems, and the Ranger bats came alive in that fourth inning, batting around and taking a 5-3 lead. They held on to win 8-6 to send the series to St. Petersburg tied at a game apiece.

 

A year ago, these two teams faced each other in the Division Series with the visiting team winning every game. Saturday’s win was thus the seventh ALDS game between the two teams, but the first won by the home team over the two series.

 

In St. Petersburg, Texas took a pair of 4-3 wins as the visiting team continued to dominate. Colby Lewis pitched a magnificent game Monday night. He is now 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in postseason play for the Rangers. Monday’s game lasted almost four hours in one of the tightest, tensest games in memory. Mike Napoli, perhaps the MVP of this team, put the Rangers ahead with a two-run home run, and Josh Hamilton plated two more with a single to right as Texas scored all its runs in the seventh inning. The outcome was always in doubt until Adrian Beltre started an around the horn double play in the ninth to end the game.

 

Beltre started the series 0-9 until finally getting a hit Monday night. Tuesday though, he was the offensive player of the game, if not the series when he clouted three solo home runs in the second, fourth and seventh innings. He is the first player to hit three long balls in a division series, and only the sixth player to hit three in a postseason game. He joins an elite group as three of the other five – Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and George Brett – are in the Hall of Fame.

 

Starting pitchers Derek Holland, Lewis and Matt Harrison earned wins in the final three games, while closer Neftali Feliz saved each one. Texas ended up hitting .211 with 16 runs scored and six home runs in the series. Tampa Bay actually out-hit and outscored the Rangers at .231 with 23 runs scored, but the Rays’ only double-digit hit game and nine of their runs came in their Game 1 win. Those batting averages and low runs scored totals are evidence that both teams have very good pitching staffs.

 

More turnover than you might think

The offensive core of this Ranger team is similar to last year’s World Series participant. Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli are the two new starting position players, essentially replacing Vladimir Guerrero and Benji Molina. The pitching staff has sustained the most change from last year. Derek Holland and Matt Harrison replace Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter in the four-man postseason starting rotation. Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara are the key new bullpen additions. Yorvit Torrealba, Endy Chavez, Craig Gentry, Esteban German and Scott Feldman are other players on this roster that were not with Texas in the playoffs last year. That totals 11 new faces, more than 40 percent of the playoff roster, compared with 2010’s.

 

Texas finished the regular season winning the final six games, won 19 of 25 games in September, and won a club record 96 for the year. They have now added three more wins in four games in the ALDS to make this the second-most successful Ranger team in history. This team has not lost even two consecutive games since August. It’s a serious roll that Las Vegas has noticed, as the Rangers are now 8-5 favorites to win the World Series. Eight more wins this month will make this the most successful Ranger team ever.

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