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Playoff position breakdown: OF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- We've explored the infield, now let's switch gears to the outfield as they prepare for Game 1 of the ALDS on Friday.

Position: Outfield

With the return of Nelson Cruz to the lineup from a strained left hamstring, the Rangers will go with David Murphy in left, Josh Hamilton in center and Cruz in right. Why? That's the best overall outfield alignment they have when you consider both defense and offense.

Cruz appears to be finding his swing at the right time. He hit a home run on Tuesday, his first since Aug. 26. And after struggling some to find his rhythm after being activated on Sept. 13, Cruz is feeling better about his approach.

"I'm taking better swings and seeing the ball better," Cruz said. "My timing is coming around."

Cruz is third on the team in home runs with 29 and still managed to collect more than 85 RBIs despite two different DL stints (the other was a strained quad muscle). The key will be making sure Cruz can stay healthy. He's done a nice job of not pushing the hamstring and manager Ron Washington eased him in, making him play DH for a handful of games before he even went in the field. Cruz said he's been able to push it now and feels good about his progress.

Murphy went from a player who was on the bench and unable to get things figured out at the plate to one that has put up a big September. Just like last year, when he drove in 17 runs and hit .355 with Hamilton out with fractured ribs, Murphy found his groove in the final month of the regular season. Going into Wednesday's game, Murphy was hitting .347 (33-for-95) in September with four homers and 15 RBIs. Manager Ron Washington certainly doesn't want to take Murphy's hot bat out of the lineup.

Murphy's splits this season reveal he's a .295 hitter against right-handers and a .215 hitter against lefties. All of Murphy's home runs have come against righties. But this month, Murphy has hit pitchers of both sides well.

Hamilton has also had a productive finish to the season. He had a 9-game hitting streak going into the final game of the regular season and was hitting .378 (14-for-37) in that span. He's batting .333 (35-for-105) with 23 RBIs in his last 25 games. The Rangers have utilized Hamilton in left field for most of the season. He got injured, of course, on the bases, sprinting and diving headfirst into home plate on a popup to third in Detroit in the second week of the season. Since then, Hamilton has hit .297 (132-for-444) with 57 extra-base hits and 87 RBIs in 109 games. And he's stayed healthy.

That's why the club isn't concerned about using him in center field now. He's a solid defender out there and this is the time of year you go with your best lineup.

Washington will also have the option of using Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry in late-inning situations or as pinch-hitters. We'll talk more about those guys shortly.