FIVE REASONS THE RANGERS CAN GO ALL THE WAY
1. Cole Hamels is a big-game pitcher
Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, has made five National League Divisional Series starts and has a 3-2 record with a 1.82 ERA in those games. More importantly, he has been on a roll with the Rangers, going 7-1. The club has won in his past 10 starts, including a complete-game three-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels in Game 162 that clinched the American League West title.
2. The Rangers believe they can win
When you come from eight games back in August to win a division title, especially when you've gone through the adversity the Rangers have experienced, you start expecting to win. The Rangers went 33-17 in their past 50 games, never losing more than three in a row. They enter the playoffs confident and on a roll.
3. The bullpen is fresh and loaded with power arms
Boy, did the Rangers' bullpen need the four days off that came with winning the AL West. Now, setup man Sam Dyson and closer Shawn Tolleson, each of whom pitched in a career-high five straight games last week, will be fresh for the playoffs. Dyson struck out 30 in 31 1/3 innings with the Rangers, and Tollenson had 76 strikeouts in 72 1/3. Add Keone Kela, who had 68 strikeouts in 60 1/3, and Jake Diekman, who finished the season with 20 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings. Those power arms can overcome mistakes. The Rangers use strikeouts to deal with inherited runners and runners in scoring position.
4. Josh Hamilton feels good mentally and physically
The prodigal son, who returned to the Rangers in June, is hitting sixth and not being asked to carry the club. But he still has the ability to change a game with his bat or his glove at any moment, and he showed it during the pivotal four-game series against the Angels. That is not something a lot of players can do.
5. The Rangers consistently start fast
The Rangers' offense took off when Delino DeShields became the everyday leadoff hitter and Shin-Soo Choo started hitting second. Each has a high on-base percentage, and it seems as if one or the other is always in scoring position when Adrian Beltre or Prince Fielder are at the plate in the first inning. The Rangers scored 119 runs in the first inning, second in the AL only to the New York Yankees.
FIVE REASONS THE RANGERS CAN'T GO ALL THE WAY
1. These Rangers don't mash the ball like they have in the past
You would think a team with Fielder and Beltre would have at least one player who hit 30 homers. Or at least someone who hit 25 homers. But that's not the case. Fielder and Mitch Moreland tied for the team lead with 23 homers, and Choo hit 22. Beltre finished with 18. In the playoffs, where runs are at a premium, the Rangers will have to manufacture runs because they can't rely on homers. Just so you know, the Rangers are the only team in the big leagues that didn't hit a grand slam this year.
2. If Keone Kela's tender elbow bothers him, it puts a real strain on the bullpen
The rookie, who has been pitching through some elbow discomfort, has not allowed a run in his past 16 2/3 innings since the Rangers gave him a couple of weeks to rest. He has allowed eight hits while striking out 21 and walking just four. If his elbow stiffness flares up and he's not a key member of the bullpen, the Rangers will have problems closing out games.
3. Somebody besides Cole Hamels must turn in some quality performances
Game 1 starter Yovani Gallardo has not pitched more than 5 1/3 innings in his past five starts, and enigmatic Derek Holland is 2-2 with a 8.02 ERA in his past four starts. Colby Lewis is 3-4 with a 5.96 ERA in his past eight starts, and Martin Perez is 2-4 with a 3.60 ERA in his past six starts. It's hard to win it all without another starter pitching at Hamels' level. At various times this season, each of those pitchers has had outstanding stretches. At least one of them needs to find that zone again.
4. The Rangers' defense is not championship caliber
Only the Oakland Athletics made more errors than the 119 the Rangers committed. While they have players such as Beltre and Elvis Andrus, who can make spectacular plays, they tend to make errors on routine throws and ground balls. Andrus committed a team-high 22 errors; Beltre and second baseman Rougned Odor each committed 17. Runs are precious in the postseason, and the Rangers can't just give them away.
5. Mike Napoli in left field
Napoli usually plays first base or designated hitter, but manager Jeff Banister has occasionally used him in left field because the Rangers have struggled against left-handed starters much of the season. Banister prefers to play Napoli in left when he has a ground-ball pitcher on the mound, and the different analytics he uses suggest Napoli won’t get much action. Still, it’s an adventure every time a fly ball heads Napoli's way. The Rangers believe Napoli will create more runs than he lets in, so it's a trade they're willing to make. Thus far, it has worked, but all it takes is one misplayed ball to lose a game and ruin an offseason.