Postseason Rangers: Can the AL champs repeat?

For the second straight year, the Texas Rangers will be playing postseason ball. There was a slight hiccup in August/September when the Angels came as close as 1.5 games behind the Rangers. Other than that, the Rangers never really had much of an issue in the American League West.

It really helps when half of the division is comprised of the A’s and Mariners— the Rangers went 28-10 against these two clubs. The Angels were a bit tough, but over the course of September action they were able to distance themselves from those pesky Halos.

These Rangers have big shoes to fill

Coming into the season as defending American League Champions, there were high hopes for this team. General Manager Jon Daniels started the offseason by aggressively approaching big free agent names, as Nolan Ryan and the ownership group gave approval for a bigger budget.

They flailed on one big name, but were able to sign Adrian Beltre to a six year deal. Mike Napoli also joined the offensive-minded group via a trade from the Angels through Toronto. The big target sign didn’t seem to bother them, as the Rangers won nine of their first 10 games in April.

Pitching depth no longer an issue

Unlike past years, the Rangers have had a solid starting rotation in 2011. Their starting five has stayed relatively healthy and consistent, ranking third in the American League in FIP. What’s surprising is the Rangers were able to have so much success by relying on three young starters who had never before reached the plateau of full-time starter.

Derek Holland surprised crowds this season, highlighted by his four complete game shutouts. Matt Harrison was able to mark his first really successful season and Alexi Ogando slipped into the rotation almost too well after an injury to Tommy Hunter in spring training left the number five spot open.

All in all, the three youngsters have allowed the Arlington crowd to forget the offseason spurn by Cliff Lee.

C.J. Wilson, the converted closer, has also quieted doubters who believed the Rangers needed an ace like Lee to lead the rotation. C.J. improved his peripherals this season, as he’s lowered his walk rate and increased his strikeout rate.

The biggest question mark General Manager Jon Daniels addressed at the July 31st trade deadline was his bullpen. Worry and doubt spread due to Neftali Feliz‘s inconsistencies and the fact that there was no one else for manager Ron Washington to rely on. Last year’s reliever corps proved inconsistent this year, as is seen in almost every other bullpen. Daniels addressed these concerns reasonably well by trading for Koji Uehara and Mike Adams.

The offensive juggernaut

A big hypothetical question about the Rangers this season regards Michael Young and his request to be traded by the only franchise he has ever known. What if they had traded him away for pennies on the dollar? Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz were out for big chunks of the season with various injuries, thus the offense had to rely on others.

Young, along with new comers Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre, who were supposed to take away his playing time, carried the weight of the offense. Ian Kinsler also provided a punch by having the healthiest season of his career, racking up more than 700 plate appearances, most by any Ranger this season.

Having a utility All-Star in Young worked for the Rangers, as those nagging injuries to Hamilton, Cruz and others allowed Washington to spread plate appearances to all of his players. All in all, the offense kept rolling despite injuries to at least one or two integral pieces of the offense during parts of the season: the disabled list was a like rotating door—one leaves and another player goes in.

Another formidable run in the making?

The Rangers are heavily relying on the health of their offensive stars, and the opportune chance their pitching will perform like it has all year long. We know the offense can score, but getting great starts by a rotation that has performed well over the season could lead to another great postseason run from the Rangers. Success also rides on the health of their offensive starters—specifically Hamilton, Cruz and Beltre— all of whom have spent plenty of time on the disabled list.

As we saw last year, Washington will likely stick to a four man rotation. The odd man out will likely be Ogando, as they would like to keep him under a maximum innings count. C.J. will likely be followed by Colby Lewis, Holland and finally Harrison. The bullpen looks adequate, perhaps even formidable, with the trades that Daniels made at the end of July. Darren Oliver will likely see action as well, as the team’s main lefty reliever.

Another thing to mention is the Rangers’ record against the Tigers (3-6) and Yankees (2-7) this season. While we can only speculate about how these 18 games project onto the postseason, it’s still a little concerning. The Ranger’s pitching could not contain the Yankee offense during those nine games, allowing on average 6.8 runs to cross home plate. Their run prevention will be quite important when facing these two offenses, and could determine the direction of the Rangers’ postseason run.

References & Resources
Fangraphs and Baseball-reference were used as resources throughout this article.

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