The Texas Rangers are, for the second consecutive year, flying under everyone's radar in the ALCS.
Yes, there are juicier storylines concerning the other teams left in the playoffs. The Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees in the ALDS. The Tigers' ace, Justin Verlander, had 25-regular season wins and may win both the Cy Young Award and the MVP award, which is rare for a pitcher. The St. Louis Cardinals ousted an overwhelming World Series favorite Philadelphia Phillies, and now they have some bad blood with their division rival, the Milwaukee Brewers, playing in the NLCS.
Nevertheless, under the radar seems to be the position the Rangers want to be in because it worked last postseason and it's working again now.
They don't have the big stars, the household names, the go-to guys. Put it this way, no one pitcher or no one hitter for Texas carries more weight than the other.
For example, Justin Verlander, with his resume, is expected to do more on the day he pitches because fans consider him the best pitcher on the Tigers' rotation. You could say, hypothetically, that he accounts for 60 percent of the results that people expect the Tigers rotation as a whole to produce.
For the Rangers, it's a different case. C.J. Wilson might be the best pitcher on the staff, according to his arsenal of pitches and his potential, but the fact that the pitchers behind him are expected to produce as equally as he is what makes the Rangers unexpectedly dangerous. The same goes for the lineup. Josh Hamilton might be the star, but everyone else knows how to produce in the same situation.
The Rangers did their job on Saturday, beating the Tigers 3-2 in Game 1 of the ALCS. And, let's just say the way they did it was unexpectedly expected. The first four hitters in their lineup-Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young-were a combined 1-for-14. Those are the BEST hitters in the lineup, right?
Well, after Saturday, whoever watched knows that the term best for one player on the Rangers is relative to the others, showing us that balance prevails. Some nights it's Hamilton, Young, or Adrian Beltré doing the damage. Some nights it's Kinsler, Andrus or Mike Napoli. But on any given night it might also be David Murphy or Nelson Cruz, as the Tigers learned the hard way.
Murphy, batting eighth, drove in the first of two runs in the second by driving a Verlander changeup to deep right-center for a triple. Two innings later, Cruz-mired in a 1-for-15 postseason slump-crushed a Verlander fastball into the left-field seats for what would prove to be the winning run.
So, point blank, the number seven (Cruz) and number eight (Murphy) hitters for the Rangers are the ones who hurt the Tigers and Verlander the most Saturday night.
Give credit to Verlander, though. He dealt with another Game 1 rain delay, though he was fortunate to win the first one against the Yankees. However, on Saturday his command was off and he allowed three runs in four innings-which was enough to lose the game-and threw 82 pitches, 49 in the first two innings.
The Rangers, who handed Verlander one of only five losses during the regular season, nicked him for three runs in the game's first four innings and arguably the best bullpen in baseball kept the game close, enough for the Rangers to get the W.
C.J. Wilson struggled the first two innings, but he had gotten into a groove, striking out the side in the fourth and taking a 3-0 lead into the fifth. Once 3-0 turned into 3-2, enter the slew of relievers that eventually capped the game. They allowed no runs and only a bunt single in 4 1/3 innings, striking out eight, including three by closer Neftali Feliz.
Alexi Ogando continued his dominance of the Tigers, throwing two scoreless innings. He was the only Texas starter to beat Detroit this season, going 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Manager Ron Washington held him out of the postseason rotation, though, out of concern that he had already been extended enough in his first full season as starter.
Ogando and Feliz were dominant together, striking out six of the 11 batters they faced. Ogando earned the win (in an official scorer's decision because Wilson did not pitch five innings), and Feliz notched the save.
After Saturday, the Tigers should be concerned not just about Verlander. They Tigers lost outfielder Delmon Young for the rest of the series with an oblique injury. Young hit three homeruns against the Yankees in the ALDS. The Tigers do have other good hitters, but Young's loss will be a damper.
Losing Game 1 puts the Tigers in a big hole. They have to assume the worst from the Rangers now because, right now, the Rangers have baseball's best bullpen-and it's not debatable.