Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers

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Generally I don’t like teams that aren’t the Cleveland Indians. I’ve found other fans will have a second team of sorts they root for, but as far as I’m concerned any team’s winning is a direct impact on the Indians’ success, and I won’t have that. The Rangers though, they’re kind of cool. I came to be an Indians fan essentially through luck and happenstance, but if I were to choose again, those boys in Arlington put forward an attractive front. The home runs, the ridiculous scores they’ve always played with, that neat right field they stole from Tiger Stadium, the fact that they’re not really any less reachable for me than Cleveland is and of course all that new money, it’s quite alluring.

But instead I’m an Indians fan, and this is the team my squad must face and defeat if they want to keep pace with those flatulent Felines atop the division. Though they’re not the class of the league as much as when they repeated as World Series losers, the Rangers are as ever a force to be reckoned with.

It’s interesting – when you think of the Rangers, historically you think offense with the pitching being an afterthought. But whether it’s the ongoing impact of Nolan Ryan and Co’s (really it’s pitching coach Mike Maddux and GM John Daniels, but Ryan is so charismatic) new/old pitching philosophies, this team can go toe to toe with the best rotations in the game. Mainly because it has one of the best rotations in the game. They’re second in the AL in ERA, fifth in strikeouts, and their bullpen has freakish numbers – lefty Neal Cotts has a 477 ERA+! Granted, it’s in 29.2 innings, but still, he’s young and shown tremendous ability. As blown up as his stats are, it’s hard to believe he’d suddenly just be dreadful.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

By the numbers their worst bullpen arm is Robbie Ross. He’s got a 2.75 ERA in 43.2 innings, is left-handed, and 24 years old. Once the postseason rolls around expect to see Alexi Ogando in return to the pen most likely,  though he’ll start this season. Though they’re not in first place the Rangers are a good bet to see in October because of this staff. If I were a Rangers fan, the biggest worry I’d have is Joe Nathan as closer. I saw him blow it too many times in Minnesota to really trust him in the big games, but it was always against the Yankees and since they probably won’t make the postseason, he hasn’t a worry in the world.

That’s not to say the offense has fallen in the crapper. Led by Adrian Beltre, the Angriest Man In Baseball, they clobber. Though they keep on batting Elvis Andrus (66 OPS+, 12 extra-base hits this year) second, outside of him the top of the order mashes. Beltre is hitting .309/.351/.533 and is on pace for 35ish homers AND he might have the best glove at third in the league. Nelson Cruz will never be a great contact guy, but he leads the team in homers with 23 and at any moment could do what he did in the playoffs two years back, hitting seven homers in like 10 plate appearances. Scary power, Rod Allen might call it. Ian Kinsler is the coolest leadoff hitter around, blasting homers and lacing doubles with those high socks and John C. Reilly hair. He’s my favorite Ranger. He’s a 30/30 threat when he’s healthy, even if he hasn’t been lately.

Catcher AJ Pierzynski is a pox on humanity, but he’s still hitting in Texas like he did the last few years in Chicago so they don’t miss Mike Napoli too much, and Jurickson Profar is on and off the bench for them. That dude is going to be special, and already knows he can hit the ball out of Progressive. You’ll remember he hit his first major league donker against the Indians last season. He hasn’t gotten much playing time which has garnered ire from Keith Law and his ilk, and it’s well warranted. The kid was the highest rated prospect in baseball coming into the season, and now he languishes behind a no hitting leather god and Ian Kinsler, who should play first so Mitch Moreland doesn’t have to get so exposed. Expect that to happen eventually.

Lance Berkman might come back, though of late he’s been considering retirement. He’s been down with a hip injury since before the break and though he’d tailed off a bit the last couple weeks he was on fire for the month of the season with a .936 OPS and was still getting on base and knocking one now and then at least before he went down. Realistically he’s not likely to make much of an impact and the offense can’t quite carry this team as it once did, but it’s enough, and like I said, MAN can they pitch.

As for the home team, we all have to hope, unless you’re a Ranger fan, that Francona got the infield to relearn how to catch a ball. Seriously, this has been some bad defense all the way around the diamond. The Indians are good, but they have to play as close to errorless as possible if they want to compete with the Tigers. That, and the bullpen needs to show up. Even if it didn’t impact the final result, Vinnie Pestano did not fill me with confidence Wednesday afternoon in Seattle.

Oh, and Jason Kipnis is still a beast.

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