Going into the League Championship Series, I have to admit, I have somewhat dismissed the Texas Rangers as a serious obstacle for the Tigers. Part of the reason for that is that the Tigers have had good success against the Rangers this season, winning 6 of 9 games. Another aspect is my perception that the Tigers match-up well with the Rangers. Their rotation is good, but isn’t impressive beyond ace C.J. Wilson. The rest of the playoff rotation consists of Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison. The Tigers hit lefties well, and the Rangers are going to throw 3 of them in the series.
The Rangers do have a very good offensive club, but the Tigers have handled them so far this year in large part because the Tigers offense has been good against Texas as well. With two good offensive teams, it often is going to come down to who can pitch better, and right now, I have more faith in Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello, than the Rangers 2-4 starters.
Make no mistake though, the Texas Rangers are a very well rounded baseball team that is going to give the Tigers all they want and more. They are the defending American League champs after all.
Texas has done something that few teams have been able to do. They have won 96 games following a season in which they went to the World Series……and they have done it quietly. Of the four teams entering the American League playoffs, the Rangers were easily the least talked about. The Yankees had the best record. The Rays were the hottest team around. The Tigers had possible MVP pitching for them in Justin Verlander. Texas wasn’t boisterous, wondering where there attention was, they were just confident.
Meanwhile while everyone was talking about the 3 other teams, Texas lied in wait for the Tampa Bay Rays, and beat them in 4 games to make their 2nd consecutive American League Championship Series. The Rangers disposed of the “team of destiny” with relative ease, and didn’t make a big deal out of it. They seem like a bunch of guys just going about their business.
The real impressive thing is that the Rangers of 2011 might even be better than last years’ version.
Texas added several key components to their team in the off-season, two of which came up big in their series against the Rays, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli. Beltre bombed 3 homers in game 4 against Tampa starter Jeremy Hellickson, and Napoli went 5-14 with a homer and four RBI. The Rangers also added at the deadline when they strengthened what was probably their one weakness, the bullpen. The Rangers traded for shut down set-up men in Koji Uehera and Mike Adams, helping shorten their games to six innings.
A couple of other things are going in the Rangers favor as well. One, they do have the home field advantage. Usually in the playoffs, its not as big a factor though, given that playoff teams tend to be pretty good on the road. Unless you are the Milwaukee Brewers. The Rangers have an experience advantage over the Tigers as well having just been in the pressure situations that the playoffs present last year.
The Tigers are no doubt going into the Rangers series feeling confident after knocking off the Yankees, but we as fans need to know that just because the Tigers beat the Yankees, the Rangers aren’t going to be a push-over.
It’s going to be a heck of a series.