No wave of momentum this time
How could you not be worried about the Texas Rangers?
They came into the season as favorites for the World Series and, frankly, aren't playing like it right now. They haven't played consistent baseball for the past few weeks and won't take a bunch of momentum into the playoffs -- no matter what happens in the regular-season finale on Wednesday.
The Rangers had led the AL West by themselves since April 9 -- yes, nearly six months ago.
Who would have thought the season would come down to game No. 162 after Adrian Beltre kicked the Angels in the gut with a home run to help the Rangers win two of three in Anaheim on Sept. 20 and start talk of magic numbers?
The Rangers, of course, can erase some of the past few weeks by winning the AL West on Wednesday. They'd be champs and could celebrate in the visiting clubhouse in Oakland. But they'll need that win to start a run that can carry them through the postseason. They've had an inconsistent offense recently that hasn't delivered enough with runners in scoring position. They've had up-and-down performances on the pitching mound and injury concerns in the bullpen.
Yet they still are one of just five teams in the AL in the postseason and no one in the league has more experience the past two seasons than Texas.
With high expectations come high concerns when things don't go as planned late in the season. How high were expectations at Valley Ranch? Sure, I know just about every team thinks it's going to win the Super Bowl when the season starts. But on paper, this Cowboys team didn't appear to be true contenders. The win against the New York Giants got everyone excited, but perhaps the Giants weren't as good as everyone thought.
There was -- and is -- no question that the Rangers are contenders. But last year, they went into the playoffs having won 14 of the final 16 games and were one of the "hot" teams. They carried that over into the playoffs. They were just 8-9 in the final 17 games of 2010 and made it to the World Series. But part of that record was because they were resting guys after clinching with more than a week left. Oh, and that team had Cliff Lee, too.
The Rangers are still a team to be feared in the postseason and know what it takes to get it done. But they don't head there on a roll, and there are plenty of reasons to be worried.
What's not to worry about?
IRVING, Texas -- As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I've seen plenty of collapses, and this, my friend Richard, is no collapse by the Rangers.
The Texas Rangers are in the postseason. Again. For a third straight year.
Enjoy it. Now, would you like the Rangers to be playing better baseball as they head into the playoffs? Sure you would. But they at least have the chance to play for a championship.
The Dallas Cowboys are playing more like a team that will miss the playoffs for the third straight year and the fourth time in five years.
That's why there should be more worry about the Cowboys than about the Rangers.
The season is only a quarter old, and Jason Garrett is right to say the story will be written a few more times before the season ends. For the Cowboys, however, the story is looking the same. This was a .500 team last year and has the look of a .500 team this year.
The offensive line is a mess. That's the foundation of any team, and right now things look bleak. You can't pin the hopes of it playing better on the return of Phil Costa from a back injury. He was the guy most Cowboys fans wanted replaced last year.
Now we see why players and coaches talk about the importance of continuity on the line. The starting line, including Costa, did not play a snap together in the preseason and had only a handful of practices. Then Costa was hurt on the third play of the opener against the New York Giants, putting Ryan Cook on the field a few days after he was picked up from Miami.
But that's too much of a football reason as to why the Cowboys are in worse shape than the Rangers.
Let's look at the psychological differences between the Rangers and Cowboys.
The Rangers can draw on their playoff success the past two years. Yes, I'm ignoring what happened in the World Series last fall to St. Louis, but they were at least there.
The Cowboys can't draw on their past to lift them up. They showed some gumption in December 2009, but the core of this team only knows about ending up on the wrong end of things. They've never had a chance to play for a championship.
The Rangers do. They have a third chance to do it again.