With the best record in the American League, one of the best all-around hitters in the game, and a quality pitching staff, the Texas Rangers appear to be frontrunners for their first World Series title.
But if the playoffs began today, the Rangers' sudden ailments and records against playoff-bound teams would put a damper on their Winter Classic aspirations.
MVP candidate Josh Hamilton leads the best offense in baseball, as the Rangers are first in runs scored with 758, first in team batting average with .275, third in on-base percentage, and first again in slugging.
Hamilton boasts an OPS of .947, and has 42 homeruns and 123 runs-batted-in. His average has dipped from last year’s .298 to .287, and has 51 more strikeouts this season, but Hamilton still maintains his reputation as one of the most feared hitters at the plate, draw a team-leading 58 walks.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre and second baseman Ian Kinsler complement Hamilton in the middle of the order. Beltre is second on the team in slugging percentage and has the best average with .316, along with 34 home runs and 95 RBI.
Kinsler leads Texas with 21 stolen bases, and is half off of a dynamic fielding duo with shortstop Elvis Andrus.
All this offense would mean Texas has to outscore any opponent to advance to the Winter Classic, but the Rangers also boast a strong rotation.
The top notch pitching begins with starters Yu Darvish, Roy Oswalt, and Matt Harrison, who leads the team with 17 wins and a 3.26 ERA.
Darvish is third in in the majors with 214 strikeouts and has 16 wins to go along with an opponent batting average of .216.
As for the bullpen, closer Joe Nathan earned 34 saves so far this season, good for 10th in the majors.
However, a recent rash of odd ailments has afflicted the club, with Hamilton experiencing blurred vision and Beltre held out of Tuesday’s lineup with an intestinal illness.
Both are still dealing with their respective injuries and are listed as day-to-day, which couldn’t have come at a worse time. Recently, teams primed to capture the World Series have ended their seasons strong, and the heart of the Rangers order out with mysterious injuries poses serious problems. Though Texas has gone 6-4 in their last 10 games.
Then comes the real rub for Texas’s World Series dreams: their record against playoff teams.
Leading the AL West by four games with 13 left to play, the Rangers haven’t outright earned a trip to the postseason.
Seven of their remaining games are against wild card hopefuls and AL West rival Oakland Athletics, with that season series knotted at 6-6. Oakland sits only four games behind the Rangers, making their next two series integral to any run in the postseason.
The Rangers are also a combined 6-10 against the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, with both teams leading their divisions.
One bright patch is a 5-2 record against the other wild card leading team, the Baltimore Orioles.
With Baltimore and New York battling for the AL East crown, Texas might hope the Orioles lose the AL East and beat Oakland in the wild card playoff; thus allowing the Yankees and White Sox to tire out before they even reach the ALCS.
Still Texas cannot pray for scenarios, and instead must prep for the playoffs by getting healthy and keeping their offense humming. With their bats and deep starting pitching, they will be a tough out and should make a deep run in the post season.