A Texas-Sized Challenge
By Tim Butterfield '12, Staff Writer
I remember every single World-Series-winning team from 1996 (when the Yankees made it to the top of the heap again) through now, and the details of many of these series remain clear in my head. But there’s nothing quite like the present, and, although I remember the good, the bad and the ugly of baseball’s years past, my mind is currently only on the playoffs of 2010. At this time last year, I was following the playoff races intently, believing that the 2009 postseason was the most important thing in the baseball world. Well, it was. But now that a year has passed, it’s time to look at this season’s anticipated playoff matchups. My focus: Texas.

The Rangers claimed the top spot in the AL West this year. They’ve played solid baseball for the majority of the season, and legitimately earned the title of top dog in the division. A similar effort has been put forth by the other top teams in the American League — the Yankees, Twins, and Rays — but the Rangers’ performance is noteworthy. The Rangers, despite having nearly a 50-year history, have never appeared in a World Series.

This may surprise you, as the Rangers have showcased some of the best pitchers (Nolan Ryan) and hitters (A-Rod, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez) of all time. But baseball can be a funny sport in that regard. After all, the Mariners have also never appeared in the World Series (three teams have not) despite having won an MLB-record 116 games as a star-studded division-winner in 2001. Meanwhile, the Marlins and Diamondbacks — two low-payroll teams that were formed less than 20 years ago — have won all three of the Fall Classics they’ve been involved with.

But the Rangers of 2010 are ready to give it the old college try. They’ve been in the playoffs before but have never made it through the first two rounds that precede the World Series. This October, however, hope springs anew for the ballplayers in Arlington.

The odds are against them, but the Rangers can’t be overlooked. In fact, I think the media is only fueling the team’s desire to conquer every team standing in its way by constantly overlooking Texas in discussions of postseason favorites. I can understand the lack of attention the team is getting, of course. While the Rangers are in good shape to qualify for the playoffs, much of that success is owed to the weak division in which they play. After all, the team’s record is identical (as of Sept. 24) to that of the Boston Red Sox, an unimpressive and worn-down team ranked third in the fiercely-competitive AL East.

But I can’t help but think that the Rangers will be a force to be reckoned with come the playoffs. Cliff Lee has already proven himself to be a big-game pitcher if there ever was one, and Michael Young is an experienced leader for the young squad. Josh Hamilton, whose life story inspires just about anyone who hears it, is probably the best all-around outfielder since Mickey Mantle, and his MVP-type numbers this season indicate that he is, indeed, the best hitter in the big leagues. Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero provide the middle-of-the-lineup pop that has kept this team strong throughout the long season, and the legal battle for the team’s ownership ended ideally, in my opinion, as Nolan Ryan — a true face of the franchise — managed to keep the club out of Mark Cuban’s hands. It’s been a pretty good year for Rangers baseball.

The Rangers have played even with the best teams all season long, notably in games against the Yankees, as Texas split the season series with New York, 4-4. So although the Yanks, Rays and Twins may be slugging it out right now to earn the best overall records in the league, the Rangers can focus on polishing up their game and finishing the season ahead of the rest of the West.

No, the Rangers will not win enough games before season’s end to surpass the Twins, Yankees or Rays and guarantee home-field advantage in the first few rounds. And the NL pennant winner will be the World Series home team, thanks to the late-game heroics of Mr. Brian McCann in the All-Star Game. But I don’t think any of that matters at all. I’m so sick of hearing about teams having “momentum” and having “an advantage” by playing in their home parks. I’d say the Yankees had the “momentum” in 2004 after obliterating the Red Sox at Fenway Park to take a 3-0 series lead, but we all know how that story ended. And while the American League teams have had home field advantage for the past 14 years, the “disadvantaged” NL teams have experienced plenty of decisive victories.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the National League teams that are contending for playoff spots. The Phillies are, without a doubt, the hottest team in baseball right now and have proven themselves more than capable of going the distance in postseason baseball for two straight years. The Reds have been able to keep the Saint Louis Alberts below them, and the NL West is showcasing a battle amongst three teams that all compare, on paper, to the Rangers.

Then again, there isn’t a single team in playoff contention that I would deem incapable of winning it all. I’m simply saying that Texas shouldn’t be counted out or taken for granted as they oppose the powerhouse American League teams that have been hoarding the media spotlight for now. The Rangers will legitimately earn a postseason berth and work harder than ever before to get that World Series monkey off their backs. Their reputation as an epicenter of the steroid era is finally dissolving, their team is in good hands and their talent levels are higher than ever before.

Playoff baseball usually comes down to a team going on a streak and winning a few games. This logic validates the Rangers winning the Fall Classic, but it also presents the possibility that they will get swept shamefully away in the Division Series. I’m just suggesting that baseball fans remind themselves that the Rangers are fighting to win something that they’ve never won before, and this just might drive them beyond the “experts’’’ predictions of honorable failure. Texans: take heart in the fact that your team will soon experience more TV airtime than ever before. And Americans: prepare to see your former president on that same TV station more often than you’d have ever imagined possible.

Issue 04, Submitted 2010-09-29 19:33:29