Playoff Profile: Texas Rangers

With the ALDS mere days away, the IBI's Drew Zubin continues his look at the best of the American League with the No. 1 seeded Texas Rangers.

Next we will turn our attention on the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have now locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with their win on September 30. That is big due to the AL winning the All-Star Game and having home field for the World Series.

Strengths

There’s a running theme with American League playoff teams, and that is a very deep lineup. The Rangers lineup is tough one through nine. They are top five in batting average, RBIs, home runs, hits, and slugging percentage. They can bludgeon a pitching staff if the pitchers aren’t hitting their spots.

You might know Rougned Odor as the guy who punched Jose Bautista in the face, but he’s as good a baseball player as he is a boxer. This season he has swatted 32 home runs, 87 RBIs, and batted .270. Odor likes to swing at first pitches, and he does a lot of damage with it. He’s batting .402 with 8 HR and 25 RBI. He has become a staple in the middle of the Rangers lineup behind Adrian Beltre.

Beltre is the picture of consistency. Every year people think he will finally start to decline, and the guy just continues to hit and play a solid third base. It’s been more of the same this season. He’s batted .298 with 32 HR and 103 RBI. The guy rarely strikes out, which is a testament to his patience and ability to make contact. He’s only struck out 66 times in 634 plate appearances. Beltre is another player who likes to attack on the first pitch. He’s batting .406 with 10 HR and 23 RBI when he swings at the first pitch. An interesting “clutch” stat on baseball reference is called Late & Close. Late & Close are plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck. Beltre has been deadly in those situations, batting .385 with 6 HR and 22 RBI in 103 plate appearances. It seems like a lot of postseason games are decided late, and Beltre is not someone you want to face in that situation. This season against the Indians, Beltre batted .320 with 2 HR and 5 RBI in seven games. If the Indians face the Rangers, they will have to find a way to limit Beltre.

The rest of the lineup is no piece of cake, either. Ian Desmond has been a great pickup for them and has turned himself into a decent outfielder. They went out and made a couple big deals at the trade deadline by acquiring Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran. Both players are proven hitters and add great depth to the lineup. Beltran might be one of the most “clutch” playoff players in baseball with a career average of .332 in the playoffs. If the Indians end up playing the Rangers in the ALCS, Lucroy will become a polarizing figure. We all know the chaos that went on at the deadline, with Lucroy declining a trade to the Indians, and a series with the Indians would add a lot of extra pressure on him. I couldn’t imagine the vitriol of his first at-bat in Progressive Field. Since going to Texas, his average has come down, but the power numbers are up. He has gone from a home run one in every 26 at-bats in Milwaukee to a dinger one in every 15 at-bats.

Another waiver wire pick-up was Carlos Gomez. He struggled mightily with Houston earlier this season, but in the hitters' paradise of Globe Life Park he’s found his stroke. His first game with Texas was August 25, and since then he is batting .289 with 8 HR and 24 RBI in 32 games. Gomez might be going well now, but he is a notorious free swinger who can be enticed to chase pitches. He’s not a guy who is up there trying to draw a walk. Nomar Mazara is a homegrown prospect who came up earlier this year and has produced immediately. He’s having a good rookie campaign batting .269 with 20 HR and 64 RBI. He is a bit of a wild card as nobody really knows how a rookie will fare with playoff pressure on them. Playoff pressure can create diamonds or crush players to dust.

The Rangers starting pitching isn’t much to write home, but Cole Hamels is still Cole Hamels. He’s pitched in and done well in big games. There isn’t a situation he hasn’t been in and he will have to be a rock in this rotation if the Rangers want to do anything. Although the starting pitching isn’t great, their bullpen is outstanding. They have power arm after power arm, which is a huge advantage in the playoffs. Matt Bush, Tony Barnette, Alex Claudio, and Jeremy Jeffress all have an ERA under 3.00. Sam Dyson has settled into the closer role for Texas and done a solid job. He’s converted on 38 of 43 save opportunities.

Weaknesses

Just like Boston and the Indians, Texas lacks depth at starting pitching. Outside of Hamels, there isn’t much that Texas can rely on. Going through the Texas starters doesn’t exactly invoke fear in anybody. Martin Perez in his last 14 starts has an ERA over 5 and an OK batting average against (.267). Before this season, A.J. Griffin missed the entire 2014 and 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery. This season hasn’t been anything to write home about. He holds an ERA of 5.07 and has allowed 28 home runs in 119 innings. If the Indians see Griffin, expect a right-handed-heavy lineup. His batting average against has been much worse against righties (.286) as opposed to lefties (.227). Colby Lewis is an aging journeyman starter. He’s been decent this season with an ERA of 3.93, but there’s nothing about him that makes a team worry. Then there is a couple of potential starters that don’t do anything but try to eat innings in Derek Holland and Nick Martinez.

X-Factor

The Rangers' X-factor comes from their starting pitching in the form of Yu Darvish. Darvish missed the whole 2015 season and the first month and a half of the 2016 season with Tommy John surgery. He returned strong. In his first 12 starts, he had an ERA of 3.01 with 90 strikeouts in 71.2 innings and held hitters to a .219 batting average, but fatigue may be starting to set in. In his last five starts, Darvish has an ERA of 4.40. If his arm can handle the extra innings coming off of Tommy John surgery, then Texas will have possibly the best one-two punch in the American League.

How they match up with the Indians

On the season, the Rangers went 5-2 against the Indians. In four of those seven games the Rangers scored seven or more runs. The Indians pitching will have to find a way to keep the Rangers from scoring that many runs. Even though the Rangers have an average starting pitching staff, it is never easy to play from behind. For the Indians to win this series, they would need their pitching to show up in a big way. I don’t think the Indians could outslug the Rangers in a series, especially with the Rangers having home-field advantage. If this series were to take place, I think a lot of the scoring would be done off of the starting pitching. Both teams have the ability to shorten games with their fantastic bullpens.   


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