Who poses biggest threat?
RAYS SILENT BUT DEADLY
Who's is the biggest threat to keep the Texas Rangers from returning to the World Series for a third straight season? That answer is easy and obvious.
If you go back to Opening Day, there were a lot of snakes in the water that could bite the two-time defending American League champs. Yankees. Tigers. Red Sox. Rays. Angels.
Only one of those snakes is still as poisonous as it was a month ago when the season started and that is the team that handed the AL champs their first series loss since the World Series -- the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays have something so far this season that all of the other "contenders" do not and that is pitching. It's all about pitching -- we know it now here in Texas and they sure know it in Tampa -- their manager preaches it.
That and manufacturing runs.
First, the rotation. The Rays have three guys they can throw at you in a series and know they can beat you in David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson. Ranger fans saw what Matt Moore, the fourth man in the rotation, can do in Game 1 of the ALDS last year, and Jeff Niemann isn't a bad fifth starter with a 3.86 ERA.
Those five guys will keep the Rays in games all season long. When the playoffs get here, any one of them can beat you.
Second, runs. Skipper Joe Maddon may not have the big sticks in his lineup but he finds ways to get runs across the plate. The Rays are fourth in the AL in runs scored. Even with Evan Longoria out for six weeks with a hamstring injury, they'll small-ball you to death to get their pitchers just enough runs to be in games and win them.
Speaking of Maddon. The two-time manager of the year is not the two-time MOY because he's an idiot. He pushes the right buttons, whether it's falling on the sword, lightening the mood or calling his guys out at just the right time to get what he needs out of them. Every time. And they love him for it. Remind you of anybody, Rangers fans?
This Rays squad is the worst kind of dangerous. Silent, but deadly.
The Yankees are praying a guy who was retired can save their rotation. The Angels can't hit and half their rotation has stunk it up. The Red Sox are playing better but still seem to be a time bomb. The Tigers have lost eight of 10.
All of those teams made big, bold and loud moves to try and take down the Rangers. The Rays just showed up quietly -- ready to play.
The easy and obvious answer to the question of who is the biggest threat to the Rangers isn't the big bad Yankees or the money whippin' Angels, who can't get Albert Pujols to hit a home run. It's the the team that everyone always forgets about until it's time to face them -- again -- in the postseason. It's that poisonous bunch in Tampa Bay.
When healthy, Tigers roar
As the calendar shifts from April to May one thing is clear: The Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League. And you could make the case that they are the best team in the majors.
But as history shows us, the best team doesn't always win. There are obstacles along the way that must be overcome.
The Tampa Bay Rays have the pitching and a style that is similar to the Rangers to be tough in an ALDS or ALCS. The Yankees have the bats, a proven ace in CC Sabathia and the experience to make a deep run. But even now, I stick with what I predicted when the season began: The AL will come down to the Rangers and Tigers.
It might seem odd to throw the Detroit Tigers out there right now. They aren't first in the AL Central and, after a quick start, they've struggled to get going. But they've also dealt with one of the tougher schedules in the AL and that schedule eases up soon. They are without Doug Fister, a critical member of the starting rotation, and the loss of Victor Martinez doesn't help, either. Delmon Young is eligible for reinstatement Friday following a seven-game suspension stemming from his arrest in New York.
Still, with everyone healthy, the Tigers are a formidable club. They added Prince Fielder in the offseason and, combined with Miguel Cabrera, they make the middle of the lineup very tough on opposing hitters. They have Justin Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner and someone who could pitch at least twice in any series. The bullpen has shown weaknesses early this season, but Jose Valverde was perfect in save opportunities a year ago and, like most of the club, has postseason experience.
Texas holds a mental edge on the Tigers thanks to winning the ALCS against them in 2011, but all the components are there for the Tigers to be tough come playoff time.
Like every contender in the AL, Detroit has weaknesses. The Tigers aren't as good defensively and they aren't nearly as deep as Texas. Outside of Verlander, the rotation isn't showing the consistency needed to compete with the Rangers for the best record in the league. But they play in the weakest division -- the Central -- and despite stumbling in April, the Tigers sit in prime position to win it and return to the postseason.
If they get there (and they will), they won't be an easy out.