Rangers Advance to ALCS for First Time in Franchise History
-Nick Parson, Front Office Assistant
And then there were four. The League Division Series has
come and gone, and for the first time in franchise history the Crawdads’ major league affiliate, the Texas Rangers, came out of it with the win. The Rangers were able to vanquish the Tampa Bay
Rays 3-2 in the best of five series, relying heavily on the dominant pitching
of Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson.
Cliff Lee, who was nearly acquired by the Yankees prior to
the non-waiver trade deadline, has stepped into the role of being the foundation
on which the Rangers are hoping to build their first championship season. In
his two starts in the ALDS, Lee allowed only 2 runs on 8 hits over 16 innings
pitched. That, combined with Wilson’s 2 hit, no run performance in Game 2,
finally got the Rangers past the first round of the playoffs. Prior to this
year’s ALDS, the Rangers had made it to the first round three times. In those
three appearances, they were swept twice, and lost the series 3-1 on another
occasion. All of these losses were suffered at the hands of the New York
With their first hurdle behind them, the Rangers now go on
to face the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Yankees,
fresh off a sweep of the Minnesota Twins in their ALDS matchup, are firing on
all cylinders after a September slide that had many people questioning whether
this Yankees club is built for a title defense. In typical fashion, the Yankees
have thus far silenced their critics in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Rangers,
who would have finished in third place had they been in the same division as
the Yankees, are the team that will have to prove their mettle to the critics.
There is one thing that has already been proven however, and that is that these
are not your typical Texas Rangers.
In recent years, the Rangers have developed a reputation of
imbalance. They are known for having outstanding power numbers at the plate,
but not much else. For example, in 2008, the Rangers led the American League in
hits, runs, slugging, and were second in OBP. In addition, their pitching staff
had the highest ERA, the most hits allowed, and the second lowest number of
strikeouts. Regardless of the offensive attack that the club mounted in that
season, they finished with a losing record of 79-83.
Now, just two years removed, the Rangers enter the ALCS with
a staff that appears up to the challenge of the vaunted New York lineup. Having
pitched a complete game on three day’s rest to knock out the Rays, Cliff Lee is
not projected to start again until Game 3. In tonight’s series opener in Texas,
the Rangers will send C.J. Wilson to duel with fellow lefty C.C. Sabathia.
This is Wilson’s first season as a major league starter,
getting his innings as a closer for the past four years. Wilson’s
transformation from mediocre closer into impact starter has been nothing short of
extraordinary. Wilson was able to log over 200 innings this season, and came
out of them with a 3.35 ERA. It is this recent body of work that gives Rangers
manager Ron Washington the confidence to start Wilson against an extremely
capable Yankees offense in Game 1.
With pitching being the highlight of the 2010 playoffs thus
far, the Rangers look to continue the trend and contain the Yankees as much as
possible. In addition, the Rangers will have to find their own ways of beating
an equally impressive Yankees pitching staff. With playoffs veterans C.C.
Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, and young gun Phil Hughes, the Yankees are just as
formidable a foe on the mound as they are at the plate. They will have to be
careful though, as the Rangers have demonstrated their ability to punish teams
for their mistakes. In Game 5 of the ALDS, the Rangers were able to score two
runs while the pitcher had his back to the plate while attempting a play at
first base. In another instance, Nelson Cruz drew an errant throw from Rays
catcher Kelly Shoppach while making an aggressive steal of third base. The
throw sailed past Evan Longoria into left field, and Cruz scored easily.
Considering that the Yankees have one of the best defenses
in the game, the Rangers cannot count on mistakes to win games. If the Rangers
are hoping to finally advance past New York in the postseason, then they will
have to do so on the backs of their starters. For the first time in many years
however, the Rangers feel as though they finally have the right men for the