Young Rangers Ready for the Playoffs
As the Rangers prepare for their Division Series match-up with the Tampa Bay Rays, the pundits are busy talking about postseason experience and how it relates to success.
Luckily for the Rangers and their fans, the young core of the team are simply too cocky to care about experience. They are going to play baseball, their style of baseball and playoff experience couldn't mean less to them.
The Claw and Antler Brigade have landed in Tampa and have workouts scheduled the next two days before they invade Tropicana Field eager to put their recent struggles there behind them.
The last time these two teams met in Tampa the Rays swept the Rangers in dominating fashion, a point many are using to suggest the Rangers are about to party like its 1999 and be swept out of the playoffs again.
Now here's my point both about that series in particular and the upcoming playoff series.
Cliff Lee had David Price beat in Tampa Bay until a former middle infielder for the Rangers left his glove and apparently his mind in the dugout late in the game. A dropped popup and a terrible decision on which base to throw to on a ground ball opened the floodgates costing Lee and the Rangers a win.
Not to mention the Rangers literally limped into that series with Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young missing the series with injuries.
That being said, the Rangers will have to be hitting on all cylinders from the first pitch on Wednesday as the Rays not only have the best record in baseball but they did so going through the juggernaut that is the American League East.
In a bizarre twist even the most dedicated statistician couldn't explain, the Rays rank in the middle of the pack or at the bottom in most offensive categories except runs scored where they finished third in the league.
With a low team batting average they must get their runs in bunches to rank that high in the league meaning the Rangers have to avoid the big inning.
Like the other teams in the East, the Rays will work the count, take the walk and run all over the place. The Rangers will have to throw strikes and let their defense go to work, no nibbling around the strike zone trying to throw the perfect pitch.
The Rangers meanwhile have to get their running game going against the Rays, the one team this year that has completely shut down the Rangers running attack.
Part of the reason the Rangers are only 2-4 against Tampa this year is the big fat zero they have in the stolen base column. With the team back to full strength they can get back to what made them so successful building a huge lead in the AL West.
Getting runners on in front of the power bats in the middle of the order and pressuring the opposition with taking the extra base and stolen bases. Instead of the middle of the order coming up with a runner at 1st, the team has runners at second and third.
When the team is really clicking manager Ron Washington gets aggressive on the base paths, calling for double steals, hit and runs and even the occasional suicide squeeze.
Anything to scratch a run or two across and a luxury the Rangers have never had in the postseason.
Don't expect the Rangers to channel past teams and sit back waiting on the three run bomb to get their runs across. They'll probably make an out or two on the bases, but they'll keep running anyway.
The best match-up to watch in this series will be the team bullpens going toe to toe for however long the series goes.
The Rays bullpen comes in red hot after a lights out September and the Rangers bullpen has been a strength all season long; a big reason why the Rangers won the AL West.
Whichever bullpen blinks first will determine the outcome of this series, that's about as bold a prediction as I'm going to make for the first round.
Like the promos say, you can't script October.
All that matters from here is the Rangers are one of eight teams that can win the World Series and they'll go as far as their pitching takes them.
11 years ago the Rangers didn't have the pitching to win a game much less advance, but this Rangers squad has nothing to fear from anyone.
Not even those with that playoff experience the pundits won't shut up about.