Evan Grant is the Rangers beat reporter and blogger for the Dallas Morning News and everyone's go to source for news about the team. Thanks to the humble In-N-Out cheeseburger, he's also one of Walkoff Walk's oldest friends. He's done all of us the solidest of solids and prepared us for the Rangers playoff run. Please to enjoy.
Dear Chicago baseball fans: Shut it. Cleveland: Close your pie hole. San Francisco: Cry us a river.
You want to live a tortured life?
Come to Texas.
Sure, it's been like 200 years since the Cubs won the World Series. Yes, goats, and Bartman and blah, blah, blah. And you know your baseball history is sordid if Wesley Snipes shows up in the team's uniform to make a couple of films as he did for the Indians (Major League) and the Giants (The Fan).
That's nothing compared to life in Texas, where Ranger fans have had to live with the fact the team hasn't won anything - World Series or Playoff Series - in the history of, well, ever. And if life wasn't bad enough living in the figurative shadows of the Cowboys for all those years, now Jerry World sits right across the street from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and casts its own real imposing shadow.
It's been rough.
That may be about to change. These Rangers - which has taken the motto "These are your Rangers," - are definitely not your father's Rangers. Not only are the Rangers back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, they don't have to face the heart of the New York Yankees dynasty. And when you break down their Division Series matchup with Tampa Bay, it becomes possible to see this team not only breaking it's 14-year-old, nine-game post-season losing streak but also advancing deep into the playoffs.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Pitching: There. I said it. No longer are the Rangers to pitching what schlocky haunted houses are to Halloween (a gory, gross and laughable joke). The Rangers ranked seventh in the AL in rotation ERA this year at 4.23. But the four pitchers who will start in the Division Series (Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter) combined for a 3.65 ERA. It's not much of a stretch to say the Rangers have the deepest rotation in the AL playoffs. And Wilson's like a Ninja, or something.
2. Josh Hamilton: Since June 1 when he junked the "toe-tap" trigger mechanism in his swing (apparently Bruno Tonioli thought it was as bad as Michael Bolton's jive), Hamilton is hitting .410. The only thing that's been able to stop him was a stone wall in Minnesota that left him with a couple of fractured ribs. But after missing 25 days, he's back. And if his life story of damnation and salvation isn't enough to make into a movie, now he's coming back to face the team that made him the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. "Ironic, isn't it," Hamilton said, channeling Alanis Morrissette.
3. Karma: Good things have been happening to the Rangers ever since Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg teamed up with Texas baseball legend Nolan Ryan to put together a group to by the club. For example: Just as the bankruptcy auction to determine the club's ultimate ownership was really heating up on August 4, Michael Young hit a grand slam homer to put the Rangers ahead of Seattle. Moments later, Greenberg and Ryan put up a bid that would ultimately defeat Mark Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane. Eerie isn't it?
4. Balance: Remember the late 1990s when the Rangers faced the Yankees in the playoffs? (I know our Walkoff Walk hosts do.) They had a bunch of sluggers who swung for the fences and beat up bad pitchers, but when David Cone and El Duque started throwing sliders off the plate, Juan Gonzalez and Co. became helpless hackers. This team? Not so much. While the Rangers are still aggressive swingers, they've cut their strikeout total by more than 200 from 2009 while upping their walk total. They ranked fourth in the AL in OBP (.338), first in sac bunts (53), second in sac flies (57), fifth in steals (123) and first in times going from first to third on a single (122). This team can create runs. It's a real part of why the Rangers won 30 one-run games in 2010, tied for the most in the AL and the best by a Texas club since Nolan Ryan was pitching.
5. Hey, did we mention Nolan Ryan? He's awesome. Even on General Hospital (ed: or Ryan's Hope!). The only time the guy has been wrong this year: He picked the Rangers to win 92 games this season. They won 90. Sue him.