Rangers, Yankees on Track to Resume Playoff Rivalry
With three weeks left to go in the 2010 season the Rangers sit 7.5 games up in the American League West with a magic number approaching single digits.
I'll be the first to say this isn't over yet and won't be until the Rangers clinch the division, however, the playoff picture is beginning to clear up as we approach fall baseball.
Those of us old enough to remember the last time a Rangers team made the playoffs, yes it's been that long, don't have many good moments to remember thanks to the New York Yankees.
Sure, winning the first playoff game in club history over the Yankees in the Bronx was one of the top highlights in the team's history, but they have gone 0-9 since then in playoff games, all losses to the Yankees.
Here we are, 11 years later and sure enough, the Yankees loom once again as the Rangers opponent in the Division Series if they hold off the A's for the AL West title.
The Rangers performance so far this season against the Yankees has been inconsistent, but there's nothing to suggest the Rangers will be the easy out in the playoffs they were in the late 90's.
First, and easily most important, these aren't your dad's Texas Rangers the Yankees will face.
They still hit for power, but they've added speed throughout the order allowing the club to manufacture runs which is crucial when facing the caliber of pitching the Rangers will face in October; it's also an element the team did not have in their last playoff run.
These Rangers can also flat out pitch with a rotation anchored by Cliff Lee and CJ Wilson and a bullpen loaded with power arms that just got even stronger with some outstanding September call-ups.
I don't envy Jon Daniels and Ron Washington when the time comes to set a playoff roster because there are many guys who could contribute that won't make the cut.
The Yankees are beatable with vulnerabilities in the bullpen and backend of the rotation, weaknesses they didn't have in the late 90's and weaknesses the Rangers do not share.
Catching the Yankees in a short series is the optimal scenario for the Rangers as Cliff Lee would pitch twice if it goes five games with Wilson and Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter sandwiched in between Lee's starts.
Those four starters are capable of shutting down any offense in baseball and winning the game virtually single handedly, a dynamic the Rangers of old only dreamed of.
The Rangers can match the Yankees power once the offense is back to full strength, but also hold the edge in the running game; especially when you consider that the Rangers lead all of baseball in infield hits.
More often than not, a club's bullpen determines how far they advance and the Rangers have one of the best bullpens in baseball; an advantage that could very well determine the winner in a matchup with the Yankees.
Take the first game of the latest series with the Yankees as a prime example.
The Yankees held a 1 run lead late but coughed it up in the eighth and gave up a walkoff home run in the 13th, both to Nelson Cruz.
The Rangers bullpen on the other hand shut down the mighty Yankee bats, pitching out of jams in the 12th and 13th to set up the game winning blast from Cruz.
The Rangers won the game on the strength of their bullpen that for a change isn't completely burnt out in September thanks to much better starting pitching.
This Rangers club is the most talented and most balanced in the history of the franchise and they'll need to be hitting on all cylinders to beat the Yankees and advance in the playoffs. If they do all bets are off on where the Rangers end up this season.
Of course they have to finish off the Oakland A's first.