Here is the stark reality of this year's ALCS: the Texas Rangers are no joke.
The Rangers' victory over the Yankees, just like their victory over the Rays before them, was no Cinderella story, no David slaying Goliath, no little engine that could. They didn't do it because they had more heart. They didn't do it because they were gutsy. They didn't do it because they slowed the game down, took it one pitch at a time, or let the game come to them.
The Texas Rangers beat the New York Yankees because they are a better team. They have better pitching, better hitting, and better defense. So they won.
The names on the jerseys- both front and back- are the only reasons anyone would say otherwise. The New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers. The team of Ruth, Mantle, and DiMaggio. The team with all the money, not to mention the most World Series championships of all time. And now, if the Yankees were to put names on the back of their jerseys, you'd see Jeter, Teixeira, Rodriguez, Sabathia, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada, Cano. These are some of the most feared players in postseason baseball today, either because of sheer skill, postseason experience, or both.
But the Texas Rangers? A team that was auctioned in the middle of the season? As for the backs of the jerseys, Lee, Hamilton, Guerrero, Cruz, Young, Wilson, Lewis, Feliz, and Molina? The first two inspire fear, to be sure, and the rest are mostly good ballplayers. But they aren't the Yankees.
Or so it was thought. But in the course of six games, the Yankees looked thoroughly overmatched. One good inning in game 1 got them a W, and some impressive damage control in game 5 got them another. Otherwise it was all Rangers, all the time.
The thing is, we should not be all that surprised. Glance down the stat lines of the Rangers current roster and look not only at the downright ridiculous numbers of Josh Hamilton (by far a better, more complete hitter than any player on the Yankees), but check out the lines of Vlad Guerrero, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, and even David Murphy, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Mitch Moreland. Add in role players like Julio Borbon and Jeff Francoeur, and you end up with an incredibly complete lineup. For example, sure Borbon hit for a low average, but he runs incredibly well. Sure Francoeur should never face a right-handed major league pitcher, but he eats up lefties. Sure Moreland only hit .255, but even as a rookie his OBP was over a hundred points higher at .364.
You can do the same with pitching. Again, Colby Lewis, C. J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter, Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day, and Neftali Feliz are not names that scare you. But one look at the numbers shows that they probably should a little more than they do.
This last off-season I remember hearing an interview with Mike Scioscia in which Scioscia said that he thinks the AL West is the toughest division in baseball. You scoff at first, but Scioscia trotted out the stat that over the last 5 years to that point, the AL West fared better as a whole against every other division than any of the others- the AL East included. After watching the Rangers manhandle the Rays and Yankees, it is hard to disagree. The Rangers are the cream of the American League crop. And considering that other than Cliff Lee (who could re-sign, but probably won't), the core is staying together, the Rangers should be able to make a name for themselves.