Rangers Go Back to Back

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, October 21st, 2011

Rangers Attempt to Avenge Series Loss From Last Season

by Dic Humphrey

dic.humphrey@yahoo.com

Texas closed out Detroit last Saturday night 15-5 to win the ALCS four games to two. The Rangers are off to the World Series for the second year in a row, and this time will go into the Series as the favorite.

It is at once much harder and much easier to be the king of the hill in the American League for a second consecutive year. It is obviously hard because the Rangers became just the fourth American League team to accomplish the feat in the last 30 years, and just the second since the playoffs were expanded to eight teams. They join the Athletics in the late 80’s, the Blue Jays in the early 90’s and the Yankees from 1998 through 2001. After winning last year, the Rangers were not taken lightly by the opposition this season. Also the West was better. In 2010, no other team in the West finished above .500, while the Angels pushed the Rangers this year and weren’t eliminated until just five games remained.

On the other hand, the experience of playing in last year’s World Series has done worlds for the Rangers’ psyche. This team has had focus and confidence. Contending teams routinely seek veteran players to shore up their roster for the stretch run. This season, Texas did not need to look outside the organization for World Series veterans. They already had them. That includes manager Ron Washington, who is far more relaxed and confident. This team knew what it took to return and did it. The team’s attitude heading into the World Series is also different than it was a year ago. Washington himself admitted on ESPN radio Wednesday morning that he didn’t have “butterflies in his stomach this year.” In 2010, Texas had accomplished the mission by reaching the World Series. This year’s team has yet to accomplish the mission.

 

Pitching is usually the deciding factor in these short series, and the Rangers’ pitching has been paradoxical in the post season. The starters were good during the regular season, winning 73 games. They haven’t been very good in the post season with a 5.62 ERA over 49.2 innings in 10 games. No starting pitcher was credited with a win in the ALCS. C. J. Wilson, the game one starter, has been perhaps the worst at 0-2, 8.04 in three starts prior to Wednesday’s World Series opener.

The other side of the paradox though is the bullpen, which was this team’s Achilles heel for most of the season. It has simply been outstanding in the playoffs. The turnaround starts with the late season acquisitions of Mike and Mike (Adams and Gonzalez). With closer Neftali Feliz, with Alexi Ogando shifting from the rotation to the pen, with Darren Oliver seemingly drinking from the fountain of youth, and with the emergence of Scott Feldman; this bullpen is extremely good and extremely deep. For the World Series, Texas deleted relievers Koji Uehara and Yoshi Tatayama, replacing them with reliever Mark Lowe and catcher Matt Treanor. The bullpen is in fact one reason for the woeful starting pitcher numbers in the post season. The pen is so deep and so good, that Washington is quick to remove a weakening starter.

St. Louis is this year’s National League champion. They entered the playoffs with the fewest regular season wins of any of the eight playoff teams, but make no mistake; the Cardinals are a worthy opponent. In late August, they trailed the Braves by 10-1/2 games for the Wild Card, and put together a serious run to catch Atlanta on the last day of the season. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa termed it, “Improbable; incredible.” They took out the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series – Philadelphia – in the Division Series, and followed that with a victory over Central Division champion Milwaukee in the NLCS. They roll into the World Series with significant momentum.

Their winning formula in the playoffs has been similar to the Rangers. Their starting pitchers’ ERA exceeds five in the playoffs, but their bullpen has been outstanding. Offensively, they start with baseball’s best hitter – Albert Pujols. They have speed and power. They can score runs in lots of ways. It is a very complete offense much like the Rangers.

The Cardinals also have baseball’s best manager. La Russa has already led the St. Louis to a World Series win, and he took Oakland to the promised land before arriving in St. Louis. This is the seventh team he has managed to the World Series, and he is third on the all time wins list.

Weather may possibly be a factor. This week’s forecast for St. Louis is chilly, windy and wet. Game time temperatures are expected to be in the 40’s, and could slip into the 30’s late game. The weather in Arlington shouldn’t be a factor unless it rains, as predicted highs are around 80 this weekend.

The series starts in St. Louis thanks to the National League winning the All-Star game. Ironically, Wilson was the losing pitcher in that game and started game one in St. Louis instead of Arlington because of his All-Star performance. The series returns to Arlington Saturday night, which will be the fourth consecutive Saturday night that the Rangers have played a home playoff game. Undoubtedly, merchants near the ballpark are cheering “halleluiah” for the Arlington voters that approved the city’s financial commitment to the stadium construction in the early 90’s.

This is an amazing run for North Texas. In the span of just a little over a year, the area will have hosted the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and two World Series. This is NOT getting old!

 

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