Beware the Rangers in postseason
Potential playoff opponents should be nervous about team clicking on all cylinders
ARLINGTON -- It's pretty much a given that the Yankees are going to the playoffs, probably as AL East champs. The Red Sox are likely to be there, too, and the Justin Verlander-led Tigers have simply run away with the AL Central.
But here's a strange notion you may want to consider: My guess is that as those teams begin to peek ahead towards the crucible of the postseason, the club nobody wants to have to face is your Texas Rangers.
Is that a stunning development for a franchise that hit the playoffs last October carrying a nine-game postseason losing streak or what?
There are a multitude of reasons the Rangers might be a feared team that go beyond their most recent offensive prowess, but that's a good place to start, as long as we all understand that offense can come and go on any given night, depending mostly on the opposing pitcher.
No one knows that better than Texas manager Ron Washington. As a born-and-bred baseball guy, Washington understands that this latest offensive excess by his hitters can't last. It just can't. It goes against the laws of nature.
The Rangers can't keep scoring runs like this. It's almost obscene.
Wash has been enjoying it to the fullest, of course, but for him, it all comes with a disclaimer.
"I think sometimes when you put it together offensively, people get overwhelmed because they see what can happen," Washington said a couple of hours before the Rangers shelled the Indians 7-4 to complete a three-game sweep and a 5-1 homestand. "But in reality, you can't keep doing this.
"I won't take it away from my guys, but I also want to make them aware of what it's going to take [once the Rangers reach the postseason]; we have to keep pitching and we have to keep catching it."
That's what makes these Rangers so intriguing. When they're at the top of their game -- as they have been more often than not of late -- they can do it all.
You think a playoff opponent really wants to face a team that would very likely start three left-handers -- C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison -- in a series' first four games? Not to mention right-hander Colby Lewis, the pitching hero of last year's playoff run.
"We can pitch. We can catch the ball," Washington agreed. "We can run the bases. We can do some things on the basepaths that can make people a little jittery. Heck, it makes some people around here a little jittery, but I would never stop that. You got to let 'em go."
I think, sometimes when you put it together offensively, people get overwhelmed because they see what can happen.” -- Rangers manager Ron Washington
Case in point: Thursday night's third inning, when No. 9 hitter Endy Chavez roped a leadoff single to right, stole second, went to third when catcher Lou Marson bounced his throw into center field and scored on Elvis Andrus' line single through the Indians' drawn-in infield.
It was also Chavez who ignited the Rangers' five-run fifth, beating out an infield hit, again stealing second and subsequently scoring on Michael Young's three-run double that gave him 101 RBIs for the season. Adrian Beltre followed with a two-run homer, breaking the game completely open.
The way the Rangers have been going since the calendar turned to September is enough to make any future opponent jittery. Over the month's first 13 games, including Thursday night's homestand finale with Cleveland, the Rangers have hit .328 with 27 homers.
Over their past eight games, the Rangers have scored 66 runs, averaging over eight runs a game.
"I'll accept it," Washington said with a smile. "If we're going to keep putting up runs like this, I'll accept it. But I won't stop saying that you've got to continue to pitch and you have to play defense."
Hang on there, now. We haven't even gotten to the really scary part when it comes to the Rangers' offense -- within a few days, Washington will unveil his not-so-top-secret lineup and batting order.
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That's when the Rangers' offense should really be firing on all cylinders.
"That's the way it's going to be when Nelson is ready," Washington said. "We can't take Murphy out. Murphy's been through this with us before and now he's found himself. When you look at what you have in the outfield, it has to be Murphy, Josh and Cruz.
"I give kudos to what Chavez has done to hold things together for us. I give kudos to [Craig] Gentry for what he's done. But when we are healthy, those are the three best guys we have, and they will play a huge role for us."
Washington began to laugh.
"That's not too bad; it leaves us with Moreland hitting ninth," he said. "There's no weak spots there. And when we don't produce on a certain night, look at the pitcher who's pitching against us and give him some credit.
"But if a pitcher goes out there and isn't getting it done, we're going to do him in."
As much as everybody wants to rave about the Rangers' offense, Wash insists on talking about pitching, and there's wisdom in that.
"If you don't pitch, it don't matter what your offense does," he cautioned. "I'm even more excited about the way we're playing defense and pitching, because that's what it comes down to."
So, just for Wash, let's talk about Alexi Ogando's resurgence Thursday night. After a tenuous 39-pitch second inning in which he somehow stranded the bases full of Indians by striking out Lonnie Chisenhall and Marson, Ogando looked an awful lot like the whiz kid we saw in the first half of the season.
At one point he retired 12 straight Indians, and he allowed only two singles in his six-inning stint. Ogando may be ticketed for bullpen duty in the postseason or maybe not.
"We have a lot of weapons, especially now that our offense is getting back to full strength, but all season long our starting pitching has led the way," Young said. "It's a lot of fun right now. We're a focused group. I just like the fact that we're a bunch of gamers."
Oh yeah, there's that, too.
Let's tick it all off on our fingers, shall we? Explosive offense. Reliable starting pitching. Excellent defense. Superb baserunning. Gamers all around.
Sounds like a five-tool team to me.
If the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers aren't nervous, they're just not paying attention.
Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.