Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 1:08 PM
The Texas Rangers take the field Wednesday Night for Game Three of a home series with the Boston Red Sox in the midst of a gauntlet that will surely test their mettle.
So far, so good. Texas took three of four on the road against the LA Angels to start the gauntlet out. That's the team they're most worried about in terms of making the playoffs. As long as they stay ahead of the Halos, the defending American League champions will be playing in October once again.
But, as they head into tonight's national TV encounter with the Bosox, Texas isn't just thinking about making the playoffs. They want to go FURTHER than they did last year... which means going all the way. How they handle their current gauntlet will tell them... and will tell us about how likely or unlikely that's destined to be.
Let's review what the Rangers are dealing with:
- 4 GAMES AT THE LA ANGELS
This was the gutbuster that started things off. The Angels could catch them from behind with a big series. Instead, Texas went for the knockout blow by taking the first three games in the series. It was a big time performance on the road... and, at least established for now that the Rangers are the best team in the AL West.
- 3 GAMES AT THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX
This would be the weakest opponent in the mix in terms of the full season standings. But Chicago was still a fringe AL Central contender at the time. And, this was an obvious letdown spot for the Rangers after the huge series in Anaheim. The last thing you want to do is get swept by the ChiSox after taking care of business vs. your archrivals. Texas dropped two of three. It was a disappointment, but far from a disaster considering the sandwich spot on the schedule.
- 4 GAMES VS. BOSTON
It's easy to look ahead to this series. It's a possible, maybe even probable playoff preview. Boston has been hyped as the best team in the AL for most of the season. Now you get a chance to show your home fans (and the nation on ESPN) that you can go toe-to-toe with them and win. An embarrassing series, and there's no way you can have any confidence in the postseason. A strong showing, and you get the media talking about New York, Boston, AND TEXAS... instead of just New York and Boston all the time.
- To this point, that's 11 killer games considering the context. You have virtual playoff games in Anaheim because the division is at stake. You can't take your eye off the ball against a contender in the Windy City. Then, four possible stage setters for the postseason against a powerhouse. You know what? We're only HALFWAY through the gauntlet!
- 3 GAMES VS. THE LA ANGELS
That's right, as soon as Boston leaves town, the Halos come into Arlington with revenge on their mind... and perhaps a last gasp effort to make a run at the top of the division. You haven't stomped this roach yet, Texas. And, if you're not careful, this roach is going to stomp you.
- 3 GAMES VS. TAMPA BAY
The Rays aren't in the playoff mix any more. But, as we showed you yesterday in our look at performances since the All-Star Break, they're still playing Wildcard caliber baseball right now. They'd be a focal point in the AL Central race if they were in that division with Detroit, Cleveland, and CWS. And, oh... by the way... they were eliminated (stunned) in the playoffs last year by this Texas Rangers franchise. Tampa Bay is still playing hard. They'll pick their spots for when they play the hardest since they're not going to be in the playoffs. That means games against Boston, New York, and these Texas Rangers. A trouble spot in the schedule for Texas to be sure coming off the emotional meetings with Boston and LAA.
- 3 GAMES AT BOSTON
Are you kidding? Seven games in 10 days against the Red Sox?! That's right. The long tough homestand is followed by a road trip that begins at Fenway Park. If you beat Boston in Arlington, they just come out breathing more fire in Beantown. If you can't send a message at home, you've given them a confidence boost against you that they didn't need in the first place. It won't be the end of the world if Texas doesn't show well here. If the Rangers can win the series, they've made a very firm statement that they have what it takes to go the distance in October.
- 3 GAMES AT TAMPA BAY
Does this ride ever end? This is like a horror movie with a monster in every room... and some of the monsters are ones you killed earlier in the movie but they came back as zombies. Once again the Rays are in a great spot to bring peak motivation against a Rangers team that has bigger seafood to fry. It's a gauntlet. It's a marathon. It's a test of will that few Major League teams have had to face to this degree in 2011.
Maybe Texas can get so hot early in the gauntlet that they can relax toward the back end. Maybe the LA Angels will drift away of their own volition... allowing the Rangers to pace themselves effectively. Make the playoffs FIRST... then worry about your swagger later. Or, maybe the 2011 Texas Rangers season will be defined over the next two weeks rather than in October.
We'll be watching closely. You should too... because getting in sync with the priorities of the Rangers will help you pick winners day-in and day-out over these next two weeks... and probably over the next two months.
There's no need to go in-depth on points about the Rangers we've made in previous NOTEBOOKS. If you're new to the website, let's briefly review that:
- The pitching staff of Texas is MUCH better than you think. They play home games in a hitter's paradise, and that warps the stats. Prior NOTEBOOK entries have run the road only numbers for the starting rotation. They are impressive.
- The offense isn't as good as the media hype would suggest. Park effects in reverse. The hitters play half their games in great scoring conditions. On the road, you can see that these guys aren't as dangerous as their full season numbers would suggest. Last year, the media kept shoving an “It's the offense of Texas against the pitching of so-and-so” storyline into postseason coverage. Texas has great pitching. That's how they beat Tampa Bay. That's how they beat the supposedly unstoppable Yankees. The offense is just a normal guy who gets to stand in front of a funhouse mirror half the season.
- The Nolan Ryan influence is palpable. This team throws strikeouts. This team doesn't take squat off anybody. You're not going to intimidate them. The Yankees are used to intimidating people, and were caught flat footed last year when Texas didn't blink.
We're looking at both Boston-Texas and CWS/LAA from ESPN's Wednesday Night doubleheader for possible big play action. Be sure you take care of business EARLY today because of the busy day slate.
- Milwaukee at Pittsburgh
- NY Mets at Philadelphia
- LA Dodgers at St. Louis
- Houston at Colorado
- Seattle at Cleveland
Some important teams in the mix there. Here are the highlights under the lights...
TOP WEDNESDAY NIGHTERS
- Arizona at Washington
- Atlanta at the Chicago Cubs
- San Diego at San Francisco
- Oakland at NYY
- Detroit at Tampa Bay
- Boston at Texas (ESPN)
- CWS at LAA (ESPN)
We know you love football... and football does return Thursday. You should be doing whatever you can to build your bankrolls on these baseball only days. We hope you'll link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK this afternoon and tonight.
Back Thursday to preview the AFC North. Baltimore hosts Washington in the national TV game on ESPN. Cincinnati and Cleveland are also in action... so that's a well timed report. Our set of eight divisional previews ends Friday with the AFC South, getting you ready for Indianapolis and Green Bay on CBS. Our college football conference previews finish off this weekend with the Sun Belt Saturday and the Independents (including Notre Dame, Navy, and BYU) on Sunday.
We told you it was about to get busy. This week's NFL Preseason dress rehearsals lead into the start of the colleges next week. Then, FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELT BABY! JIM HURLEY'S GOING TO TAKE YOU ON A WILD RIDE TO RICHES!