The Texas Rangers clinched their second consecutive American League West title on Friday night. The playoffs await, but plenty is still at stake.
Watching your team punch their ticket to the postseason never gets old. Friday night was no exception. The Texas Rangers dispatched the Oakland A’s, 3-0, to claim their second division championship in as many years. A mutual admiration society ensued on the field after the final out. In the locker room, the champagne flowed, much to the chagrin of the stadium’s cleanup crew.
The most satisfying aspect of this year’s run has to be the way they did it. Whereas last year was a season-long grind to reel in the Astros, this year was a (mostly) season-long tour de force. The eyeball test suggests that this team is better than the 2011 version, and everyone remembers how tantalizingly close they came to the ultimate prize.
So while a spot in the postseason tournament has been secured, the last week of the regular season presents itself with its own set of challenges. As presently constructed, the playoff bracket looks like this. It behooves the Rangers to stay at the top of that ladder. While they are a good team on the road, they possess the best home record in the American League. They need to make every effort to have the road to the World Series come through Arlington.
The season ends with six straight home games against the Brewers and Rays, teams who are a combined 135-174 and have been firmly out of the playoff picture for weeks, if not since April. Despite the Rangers’ tendency to play down to the level of the competition at times this season, there is no reason to think manager Jeff Banister will allow his charges to get complacent.
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A lot has been said about how the Rangers have built their record and whether or not it’s sustainable. Their 36-11 record in one run games is astonishing. Is it a new template for winning baseball or an outlier? Well, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s likely far more the latter than the former. But this is who they are. As SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee writes, their swashbuckling brio should be admired, not overanalyzed. They simply have a knack for producing in the clutch. If you want your team to have any one trait going into the playoffs, this is it.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some nagging issues that could come back and bite them in any round of the playoffs. While Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish seem to have their houses in order, the rest of the pitching rotation doesn’t necessarily engender strong hope versus a playoff-caliber lineup. Colby Lewis, the venerable war horse, is still working his way back from an extended absence. Martin Perez is an enigma of the highest order. When he’s good, he’s almost untouchable. When he’s bad, he needs babysitting after every negative result.
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But again, this is what the Texas Rangers have been all season. Find me a team this side of the Chicago Cubs that wouldn’t trade places with them right now. The Indians and Red Sox might have something to say about it, but the Texas formula has worked just fine. While they’ve certainly been lucky at times, the argument can be made that luck is the residue of design. You don’t just backdoor your way to 92 wins. This team has all the potential in the world to do special things in October. Enjoy it.