Now that they're in, Rangers await ALDS foe
Longtime nemesis Yankees or Rays beckon in first round
OAKLAND -- Third baseman Michael Young, as he has been known to do, best summed up the prevailing feeling in the Rangers' clubhouse."I don't care," Young said. "I don't care who we play or where we play." But at some point, the Rangers do need to know which direction to point the team plane. Now that the Rangers are officially the American League West champions, the next level of suspense concerns who their opponent will be in the AL Division Series. Texas, almost assuredly, will open the playoffs on the road against the AL East champions. That will be either the New York Yankees or the Tampa Bay Rays. One of those teams will win the East and the other will be the AL Wild Card team. The Rangers know that Cliff Lee will start the first game of the playoffs and likely be followed by C.J. Wilson. They just don't know who the two left-handers will be facing. "It doesn't matter," outfielder David Murphy said. "They're both good teams. Both have more postseason experience than us, but once you get into the postseason, everybody starts 0-0. It's a matter of who plays the best for the last month of the season." The Twins will face the AL Wild Card winner in the opening round and be able to host the first two games. Two teams from the same division cannot play against each other in the first round. The Rangers are 2-4 against the Rays this season. They took two of three from the Rays in Arlington on June 4-6, but were swept in a three-game series at Tropicana Field on Aug. 16-18. The Rangers are 8-7 against the Rays the past two seasons. Texas was swept in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium this season, but that was in April. The Rangers split two games with the Yankees in Arlington on Aug. 10-11 and then swept the defending World Series champions in a three-game series on Sept. 10-12 at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "It's going to be a tough team regardless of who you face," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "To get to the postseason, you've got to be a complete team and that's who you expect to play." The ALDS is a best-of-five, with the winners advancing to the best-of-seven AL Championship Series. After that is the World Series. The Rangers are the only Major League team to have never appeared in an LCS. The Rangers, Mariners and Nationals are the only three franchises that have never appeared in a World Series. "Winning the division was a goal, but not the ultimate goal," manager Ron Washington said. "We've still got to win 11 games." Lee and Wilson will lead the rotation with right-handers Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter to follow, although Washington has not announced the order. There is a possibility the Rangers could go with a three-man rotation in the first round if they decide to pitch Lee on three days' rest. The first two games are scheduled for Oct. 6-7, with Games 3 and 4 on Oct. 9-10 in Arlington. A fifth game, if needed, will be on Oct. 12. The Rangers are still unsure if outfielder Josh Hamilton (bruised left rib cage) and reliever Frank Francisco (strained muscle in right rib cage) will be ready to go.
Hamilton continues to show improvement with his rib-cage injury and is hoping to get back on the field for at least the final three games of the last homestand. Francisco has been on a throwing program, but it's probably going to be difficult for him to be ready for the postseason.That roster will likely include four starters and seven relievers. The four starters are set. The bullpen will include closer Neftali Feliz, left-handers Darren Oliver and Matt Harrison and right-handers Darren O'Day and Alexi Ogando. That leaves two spots, with Francisco remaining unknown. Otherwise, the Rangers will pick from a group that includes left-handers Michael Kirkman, Derek Holland and Clay Rapada, and right-handers Dustin Nippert, Scott Feldman, Rich Harden and Pedro Strop. Without Francisco, the Rangers will likely go with Nippert as their long reliever and pick one more left-hander to complete the bullpen. First base remains the biggest question as far as position players. The Rangers' initial plan was to have Mitch Moreland and Jorge Cantu split the job in the playoffs. But the Rangers may be leaning back toward Chris Davis as their left-handed-hitting first baseman over Moreland. The other question is if the Rangers are comfortable with Cantu as their right-handed-hitting first baseman. "We're not making a decision right now," Washington said. "That spot will be discussed just like every other spot will be discussed." Postseason rosters don't have to be finalized until the night before the first game. The Rangers will wait until then to make any final decisions, but they are going to include Jeff Francoeur as a right-handed-hitting outfielder and pinch-hitter off the bench. Right now, the Rangers are savoring their first postseason berth in 11 years and first as a manager for Washington. He was hired four years ago after 11 seasons as a coach for the Oakland Athletics. The Rangers went from 75-87 in his first season in 2007 to 79-83 in '08 and 87-75 in '09. Now he is the second manager to lead the Rangers to a division title and is a leading candidate for AL Manager of the Year honors. He went to the playoffs in five of 11 seasons with the Athletics but never as a player. "This is the most satisfying," Washington said. "I am the manager but also because of the job that the coaching staff did and the work those guys in the clubhouse put in this season. We had dreams in Spring Training, but to see it come to fruition is quite an accomplishment for everybody ... the whole organization." Jon Daniels becomes just the second Rangers general manager to ever construct a division championship team. He was hired by former owner Tom Hicks immediately after the 2006 season and has overseen the meticulous rebuilding plan that was put in place early in the '07 season and has finally produced the desired result. "We put ourselves on the spot from the beginning with the expectations we put on ourselves," Washington said. "To put ourselves in this position ... I have trouble saying how excited I am, but I am excited." This will be the Rangers' first time in the playoffs since 1999 when they won a club-record 95 games. They have been to the playoffs on three previous occasions in 1996 and 1998-99, playing the Yankees in the first round all three times. The Rangers were swept both times in 1998-99, scoring just one run in three games in both series. Texas batted .141 in the 1998 playoffs and .152 in '99. Both times, the Rangers lost the first two games in New York before dropping Game 3 in Arlington. The 1996 ALDS against the Yankees was far closer. The Rangers almost derailed the Yankees' dynasty in manager Joe Torre's first year. John Burkett pitched a complete game in the Rangers' 6-2 victory in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium. The Rangers led, 4-1, in Game 2 before the Yankees rallied for a 5-4 victory in 12 innings. The two teams returned to Arlington for Game 3 and the Rangers led, 2-1, into the ninth before the Yankees rallied to win, 3-2. The Rangers also led, 4-0, after three innings in Game 4 before the Yankees came back for a 6-4 win.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.