After beating the Baltimore Orioles 7-1 last night, the Texas Rangers are heading to the American League Championship Series for the first time in over a decade.
The last time Texas found themselves in position to play for a pennant, it was back in 2011. They won that year, as they did back in 2010, but failed to win in the World Series both times. The Rangers have not made it out of the ALDS since then, and prior to this season, they last made the playoffs in 2016.
When a team breaks a long playoff drought, there are always questions as to how they will handle their first taste of October. We literally just saw the reason for that play out before us with their opponent, the Baltimore Orioles, who won 101 games in the regular season but couldn’t muster a single win against Texas.
The Rangers swept the Orioles in convincing fashion, scoring 20 runs in the three-game sweep. This came off the heels of a similarly dominant Wild Card round, which saw the Rangers hold the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays to one run across the two-game sweep.
No one should be too surprised with how Texas has played, considering their +165 run differential from the regular season. Still, many wondered how the Rangers would respond to losing their division to the Houston Astros on the final day of the season.
Texas had spent the most time of any team in the AL West in first place this year but were outlasted by the Astros, who tied them in the standings by beating the Diamondbacks in Game 162. Because the Rangers lost their season series to the Astros, they were forced into the Wild Card spot.
This meant the Astros won their sixth AL West title in seven years, with the lone exception being the shortened 2020 season. The reigning World Series champs got a first-round bye, which allowed them to evade being on the same side of the bracket as the top two teams in the AL this season.
Despite being forced to battle on the road for much of the last 10 days, the Rangers have been able to grasp the moment and beat two of the biggest giants in the playoffs. Now, unless the Minnesota Twins do them a favor, the Rangers are staring down the biggest giant of them all.
A matchup against their chief rival in a seven-game series in the ALCS.
Smashing the “Hard Road”
The Texas Rangers have shown themselves to be quite the road warriors in the playoffs. First, they traveled down to Tampa in a three-game Wild Card series where they would never get a home game.
The Rangers signed Jacob deGrom in the offseason to pitch this type of playoff game, but he unfortunately needed Tommy John early in the year. Texas looked to replace him by trading for another former Mets ace in Max Scherzer at the deadline. Scherzer too went down with an injury.
So, this led to Jordan Montgomery starting Game 1 of the playoffs for the Rangers. The left-hander was almost an afterthought when the Rangers acquired him at the deadline to add some much-needed depth to survive a contentious AL playoff race.
Yet Montgomery was as steady as you could ask for, never missing a turn in the rotation and pitching to a 2.79 ERA across 67 2/3 innings pitched. Going up against the Rays on the biggest stage imaginable, Montgomery had the chance to prove himself capable of taking that same success into October.
Set to hit free agency after this season, Montgomery has taken full advantage of the opportunity to prove what type of bulldog competitor he can be in the big moments.
Montgomery went seven scoreless against the Rays, receiving the first playoff victory of his career. Next up on the mound for the Rangers was Nathan Eovaldi, a proven postseason commodity, who had to prove he was healthy more than anything.
At one point this season, Eovaldi was considered a Cy Young candidate, as he pitched to a 2.83 ERA across 18 starts in the first half. His Cy Young campaign was derailed when he had to be placed on the IL at the end of July with a forearm injury.
Interestingly enough, if not for the forearm injury, the Rangers may not have traded for Montgomery, but luckily now they have both pitchers healthy and able to lead them in these playoff series.
Eovaldi struggled in his return off the IL, pitching to a 9.30 ERA across six starts in September. All those woes went away when the right-hander got on a postseason mound, proving again his ability as a big-game pitcher, having clinched each of the Rangers’ series thus far.
First in Game 2 of the Wild Card round against the Tampa Bay Rays, Eovaldi started the game with six scoreless innings before being taxed with a run and pulled after getting two outs in the seventh inning of what was eventually a 7-1 Rangers victory.
Next, Eolvadi returned for Game 3 of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles last night and again led the charge to a convincing 7-1 series-clinching victory.
With an offense that is simply a machine right now, two quality starting pitchers who can now get some rest, and more reinforcements potentially on the way, the Rangers are suddenly looking like the favorite to make it out of the American League and advance to the World Series.
A Championship-Caliber Offense
While Eovaldi and Montgomery might get some of the headlines as the two horses the Rangers are riding, make no mistake about it, this is a team carried by its offense.
Corey Seager might have won the MVP this year in a world where Shohei Ohtani doesn’t exist, but on the biggest stage, he is proving to be one of the most-feared hitters on planet Earth. Across 25 plate appearances, Seager has been walked 11 times and is 6-for-14 in his other at-bats.
This has Seager as one of two Rangers who are currently sporting an on-base percentage over .600 in the first five games of the playoffs, with rookie Evan Carter joining him.
Carter has turned himself into a star over the past week and a half, showcasing a fantastic approach beyond his years while coming up with clutch hit after clutch hit.
Along with Seager and Carter, the Rangers have Josh Jung, who has tied Seager with a team-best six runs scored and an OPS over 1.000. Adolis Garcia leads the team with two home runs and gives the Rangers another hitter who has to be feared right now.
Marcus Semien hasn’t even really gotten going yet, and the Rangers are taking off anyway.
When it comes to the pitchers they will face, regardless of if it is the Astros or the Twins, their toughest test is certainly to come in the ALCS, but the Rangers’ offense looks like it can score on anybody, with pitching good enough to keep them in most games.
Now, the only question is who will they play and who will be back for the next round of the playoffs.
One More Arm Needed To Win It All
If there is an Achilles heel for this Rangers team right now, it is having a third starter that can go behind that top duo of Montgomery and Eovaldi. By sweeping the first two rounds, the Rangers have been able to gloss over this issue, but it could rear its ugly head in a longer series.
With their co-aces being unavailable to pitch Game 1 of the ALDS, the Rangers were forced to turn the ball over to Andrew Heaney, who was then piggy-backed by Dane Dunning to get Texas into the later innings. Heaney and Dunning combined for 5 2/3 innings and allowed two runs before the bullpen came in and shut the door for the final 10 outs of a 3-2 victory over the Orioles.
Then, the Rangers were able to go back to Montgomery and Eovaldi to get the job done against a tough Orioles team. Now, moving forward, the Rangers can once again line up Montgomery and Eovaldi for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS, but after that, the situation gets murky.
Worst case, the Rangers go back to the Heaney/Dunning formula, something they will have to deploy at some point in the ALCS anyway. In the best-case scenario, that doesn’t take place until Game 4, with Max Scherzer potentially in line to take the ball at some point during this seven-game series.
Scherzer is rehabbing from a teres major injury, which has sidelined him since the middle of September. The former Cy Young has been trying to get back for a chance to be part of this postseason run and will likely give it a go in the upcoming round.
Along with Scherzer, the Rangers could also get some reinforcements with Jon Gray working his way back from a late-season wrist injury. If the Rangers can get one or both of those arms back, they would only become a more formidable World Series contender.
Regardless though, this is a team that has captured the attention of the baseball world. They’re just getting started on what has the makings of a pretty magical run.