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2010 MLB Playoff Preview - Texas Rangers
Dan Port | Thursday September 30th, 2010
Vladimir Guerrero has had a career renaissance (AP)
Vladimir Guerrero has had a career renaissance (AP)
AL West Champs
Vladimir Guerrero has had a career renaissance (AP)
Throughout most of the 2010 MLB season, the Texas Rangers seemed like the game's most dominant division winner, despite the occasional cold streak or misstep.  Thus, it was not a big surprise on Saturday when the club clinched the AL West title with a 4-3 victory over their rival, the Oakland A's.  There's an excellent chance that the Rangers will finish the year with a double-digit games lead over the A's or Angels, depending on which team slides into the number two slot.  Texas was a club that was picked by many to make the post-season this year, thanks to an improved pitching staff.  However, the hurlers who have emerged for them haven't necessarily been the expected ones.  Furthermore, the explosive lineup has largely surpassed the high preseason expectations.  Health, however, has been a concern all year, but if the injury bug can buzz off in October, Texas could be a very dangerous club.

After each team clinches a Playoff Spot Baseball Press will break down their strengths and weaknesses as they head into the post season.

The Rangers' batting order is among one of the most impressive in all of baseball, boasting a good mix of speedy contact hitters and hard-hitting sluggers.  The most dynamic and exciting of Texas' hitters is outfielder Josh Hamilton , the former first overall draft pick who was long known for his personal struggles and eventual recovery from alcohol and drug abuse more than his playing ability.  Hamilton's all-out aggressive playing style has led to numerous injuries throughout his major league career, including a current rib injury that has forced him out of the Texas lineup for most of September.  He's set to return from those broken ribs on Friday and, as it stand now, Hamilton is the major league leader with a .361 batting average.  He's also tallied 31 home runs and 97 RBI in 130 games this year.  Second baseman Ian Kinsler , one of the best power-speed combinations at his position, missed a month at the beginning of the year and the entire month of August due to injuries but has still managed to contribute to the team's success, but many of the team's previously unheralded hitters have carried the load thus far.  Outfielder David Murphy has been a prime example of that contribution.  Murphy opened the season by hitting just .162 in limited action to start the season, but with increased playing time to cover for injured sluggers Hamilton and Nelson Cruz , Murphy hit .304 after that, and had a knack for clutch and game-winning hits along the way.  A recent groin injury may hamper Murphy a bit moving forward, though.  Along with a rebound season from designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero (who is on the brink of a 30 homer, 115 RBI, .300 average year) and solid contributions from third baseman Michael Young (.285 with 21 HR and 88 RBI) and second-year shortstop Elvis Andrus (.264 with 32 stolen bases), Murphy has led the charge for the lesser-hyped Rangers hitters.  With the lineup at full strength heading into the post-season, Texas is as offensively potent as any major league club.

For a group as offensively dynamic as the Rangers, they have a surprisingly solid defensive club.  The outfield has a few interchangeable parts that have helped them cover during injuries this year, but their regular starting outfield of Hamilton in left, the speedy Julio Borbon in center, and the strong-armed and athletic Cruz in right, the club has a solid group to cover ground.  Murphy is solid as well, but best used at one of the corner spots.  As for the infield, Young, a former Gold Glove-winning shortstop, has impressed since his move to third base in 2009, a move mainly motivated by the promotion of the dynamic Andrus.  Andrus covers a lot of ground and is consistent with his throws.  Kinsler is adequate at second base and doesn't hurt the club with his glove.  As for the revolving door that has been the Rangers' 2010 first base position, it appears that the Rangers have settled on primarily using Jorge Cantu there.  Cantu, acquired at the trade deadline, is also a capable third baseman- it's really been his uncharacteristically cold bat that has led to bench time since his acquisition.  At catcher, the Rangers have another trade acquisition to fortify their D, with veteran Bengie Molina calling the pitches and covering the plate as only Molinas can.  Backing him up is Matt Treanor , a journeyman of sorts but a capable defensive catcher with a good track record.

With a finally healthy team and a handful of in-season acquisitions, the Rangers' bench has gone from solid to excellent.  They have multiple options in the outfield with the aforementioned combo of Hamilton, Cruz, Borbon, and Murphy, and in the infield they have some interesting young up-and-coming hitters as well.  Mitch Moreland has shown some power as a first base option and part-time outfielder, and corner man Chris Davis , though disappointing as a major league starter after a solid rookie campaign, is a significant power threat as well.  Backup infielder Andres Blanco has played well and hit over .280 for the Rangers this season in limited time, which has been helpful because infielder Cristian Guzman has really struggled since joining the club and rarely sees playing time anymore.  Most surprising, though, has been former Met outfielder Jeff Francoeur , who struggled with his National League club but has hit very well in a limited time with the Rangers.  If he can recapture some of his past success, he could be a very interesting option in the playoffs.

Starting Rotation
The mid-season trade acquisition of former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee was something that seemed like it would solidify the Texas rotation with a true ace.  However, Lee struggled upon his initial arrival in Texas, not posting the high-caliber numbers he did as a Mariner.  Though he's bounced back and looks to lead the Rangers in the first game of their playoff series, the best rotation options for Texas this year have been surprise performers.  Successful but injury-plagued pitcher Rich Harden was expected to lead the Texas starting pitching staff, but he's been largely ineffective in 19 games in 2010 and has, as usual, missed some time.  Scott Feldman surprised by winning 17 games and posting a 4.08 ERA in 2009, but he has been dreadful for most of 2010 and found himself relegated to the bullpen.  However, former setup reliever C.J. Wilson has been a revelation as a starter, going 14-8 with a 3.35 ERA and just 157 hits allowed in 199 innings, and Colby Lewis , who played the last two seasons in Japan, leads the team in strikeouts and has done better than his 12-13 record might indicate.  Those two, along with Tommy Hunter (13-4 since missing two months to injury to start the season) will lead the staff in the post-season.

The Rangers' bullpen appeared to be problematic early this season, when closer Frank Francisco struggled badly in the first month and a half and was eventually supplanted by fireballing youngster Neftali Feliz , who was originally slated to join the starting rotation.  But in their new roles, both Francisco and Feliz have thrived, particularly Feliz who, after posting an ERA of 3.82 at the all-star break, has put together a scoreless September and a 1.57 second half ERA, putting his season mark under 3.00 and making himself a front-runner for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.  Francisco suffered a strained ribcage muscle in late August and will not suit up for the AL Division Series, but could contribute later in the playoffs.  Luckily, the middle relief options of rookie Alexi Ogando (1.34 ERA and 37 K in 40.1 innings), workhorse Darren O'Day (1.95 ERA in 70 games), and 39 year-old lefty Darren Oliver (2.52 ERA in 63 appearances) can all help get the game to Feliz.  Overall, the Rangers' bullpen, like much of their team, looks strong entering October.

Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.