Rangers took edge over Red Sox with pitching
Performances by young starters neutralized potent Boston offense
BOSTON -- How do the Texas Rangers match up against the Boston Red Sox? Head-to-head, in person, on the field as opposed to in theory, very well.
The two teams just completed their season series Sunday at Fenway Park. The Rangers won the final game, 11-4, prevailed in the weekend series, winning two out of three, and took the season series, 6-4.
This becomes a matter of particular interest, because, if the American League standings remain as they are now, the Red Sox and the Rangers would meet in a AL Division Series matchup. The Rangers, as the club with the second-best record among division-winners, would have the home-field advantage over Boston, which would be the AL Wild Card team. To those who complain that the Wild Card team is never penalized, here would be a penalty: Boston (84-55) currently has a better overall record than Texas (80-61). Boston could keep that better record, but as a Wild Card team, it would still open on the road.
The Red Sox were the popular preseason pick to represent the AL in the World Series, even though the Rangers were and still are the defending AL champions. There were reasons to believe that the Red Sox had improved themselves. They still have the second highest-scoring offense in the Majors. (The Rangers are third in that category.)
What are the similarities of these clubs, apart from that they both are on course for the postseason?
"The only similarity is that both are dangerous," Rangers manager Ron Washington said Sunday. "They have a little more experience than we do. They grind, that's their style of play. Our style is to attack. During the course of some ballgames, we grind, but that's their style all the time. They take pitches, they get men on the bags and then something happens. That's the way they do it. They got three or four guys in that lineup who can pop the ball out of the ballpark with consistency. They've got some real professional hitters in that lineup: [Dustin] Pedroia, [Adrian] Gonzalez, [David] Ortiz. You got [Kevin] Youkilis, who is trying to come back and who we all know about, so they're dangerous.
"But I think the biggest difference is the experience they have in their pitching staff."
Still, that apparent advantage becomes neutralized when the young pitcher in question is working better than the veteran pitcher. That was clearly the case Sunday, when John Lackey was battered, again, by the Rangers, but Matt Harrison shut out the Red Sox for six innings and finished with two runs allowed over seven frames. Another young Texas lefty, Derek Holland, had thrown seven shutout innings against the Red Sox on Friday night in a 10-0 Rangers victory.
"It's pitching -- whether it's from youth or from experience, it's pitching," Washington said. "They're capable of doing what Harrison did today and when Holland pitched. But it's pitching, whether it's old or it's young, it's pitching. That's what it's about right now."
The veteran Lackey has a career 6.16 ERA against Texas. This season, his ERA against the Rangers is 11.15. Harrison, meanwhile, had been hit hard against Boston -- seven earned runs in five innings -- on Aug. 24. But he regained his form in this one.
"It's a tough place to pitch and their lineup is one of the best in the game," Harrison said. "So you've got to be at the top of your game."
That's where Harrison was. So the pitching from the two young left-handers was a primary reason why the Rangers took the weekend series.
The season series was strange; for the most part, a group of blowouts in both directions. The average margin of victory was 6.4 runs. What was up?
"You've got two teams that are potent offensively, but once again it's about pitching," Washington said. "You go against clubs like the Rangers, the Red Sox, the Yankees -- teams you know can swing the bat -- you'd better bring the pitching. If you don't, what happened today can happen. You've got to pitch, not only against the Red Sox, but against the Rangers, also."
The Rangers have gone 19-10 against Boston since 2009. There are only two other AL teams -- the White Sox and the Rays -- with winning records against the Red Sox over that period. There is plenty of encouragement to be found for the Rangers in these numbers.
The Rangers still have to clinch the AL West, where the Angels remain very much alive. But this series against Boston was not only encouraging, but educational. It reminded the Rangers and anybody else watching that if their young pitchers work up to their level of ability, this will be a difficult team to beat -- regular season, postseason, any time.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.