The Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals are meeting in the 2011 World Series, which kicks off Wednesday night. They're two excellent teams who each deserve to be where they are, because I don't know how a team in the World Series wouldn't deserve to be in the World Series. Could an eliminated team just fly to the location and beat one of the participating teams to the park? Could that team then successfully trick the necessary officials into believing that they made it instead? That team wouldn't deserve to be in the World Series, although it would deserve some points for cunning.
Now, there's an interesting thing about the Rangers/Cardinals matchup - they've pretty much never played, ever. The Rangers have played well over 8,000 games in their franchise history. Three of them have been against the Cardinals. The Cardinals have played well over 17,000 games in their franchise history. Three of them have been against the Rangers. The Rangers and the Cardinals have been, historically, the Cardinals' and the Rangers' least familiar opponents.
So I thought now would be a good time to introduce one team to the other team's fan base. You want to have a good understanding of who your team is going up against in the championship, right? I briefly considered introducing the Cardinals to Rangers fans and introducing the Rangers to Cardinals fans, but then I realized I have a much better understanding of the Rangers than the Cardinals, myself, so I'm only doing the second one. Cardinals fans: here are the things you need to know about the big bad ballclub from Texas.
History against the Cardinals
We might as well start off with those three games. Those three games took place between 6/11-6/13 in 2004. The Cardinals won two of them, and outscored the Rangers 27-16. Three games, 27 runs. The Rangers' three starting pitchers were Juan Dominguez, Ryan Drese and R.A. Dickey, and as for the position players, there was an alarming amount of Hank Blalock, Brad Fullmer and Alfonso Soriano. Of all the Rangers to appear in that series, the only one still with the team is Michael Young. At that point he batted leadoff and played shortstop. He doesn't do either of those things anymore.
The Rangers' franchise history is really embarrassing and they'd probably prefer that I not talk about it. Originally the terrible Washington Senators, they moved and became the Texas Rangers in 1972. They didn't finish first in their division until the strike-shortened 1994, when they went 52-62 and got outscored by 84 runs. They didn't actually play a playoff game until 1996, and they didn't win a playoff series until 2010. Until last season, the Rangers had as many playoff series wins as the two bicyclists who just rode by outside my window as I was composing this sentence. That was convenient. The best player the Rangers have ever had is (wrongly) considered by many to be the worst decision the Rangers have ever made.
Of course, the Rangers' embarrassing history is pretty much irrelevant because oh shit you better look the f&@% out now. In 2009, the Rangers won 87 games. In 2010, the Rangers won 90 games and made the World Series. In 2011, the Rangers won 96 games and made the World Series. They're a fantastic team in every respect, with a great front office, a great major league product, a great minor league system, and a whole bunch of money. I don't know if they can be called MLB's best organization as long as the Rays are around and doing what they do, but the Rangers might be MLB's best organization with money to spend. They're awesome now and they'll probably be awesome for a while.
Everything. If I had to make a list of the 2011 Rangers' team strengths, that list would include everything. The Rangers can hit really well. They can field really well. They can run really well. Their starting pitching is good. Their bullpen is good. There was a time earlier in the year when the Rangers' bullpen was bad, but then it was fixed, so now it is good. The coaching staff seems fine, according to my elegant formula of "Is The Team In The World Series? (Y/N)"
Nothing. This is just the opposite of what's above. The Rangers do have a weakness if you have access to a time machine and travel to the first half of the season. If you go back even further than that, they have way more.
The 2011 Rangers have a number of good players - it's hard to get this far without having a number of good players - but the best among them are Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, and Elvis Andrus. You'll hear a lot about Nelson Cruz, because Nelson Cruz is quite good and he's had an impossible October, but he's not quite as good as he's looked lately, and even just typing the word "hamstring" causes him to feel pain in his hamstring. Hamstring hamstring hamstring! If you guys want to see the Cardinals win, you should probably type the word "hamstring" a lot. Kinsler and Beltre might be the best of the best, and they're kind of quietly awesome, because they make a significant part of their contribution in the field. But they're also not quietly awesome because they can hit too.
Hey look, it's backup outfielder Endy Chavez! You Cardinals fans surely remember Chavez for that catch he made that ended up not really making a difference. The Rangers have and like to use Darren Oliver, too, and I'm going to assume that Oliver was a Cardinal at some point.
It's important to have an understanding of Michael Young. Michael Young is probably the most annoying thing about the Rangers. Here's what Michael Young is: a pretty good hitter. But he's the guy on this team of whom people choose to make much more than they should. Every team has one, and Young is that guy on the Rangers. He's a leader, because he's old. He's a true professional, even though he bitched and complained the two times the Rangers asked him to change positions. He's a real, red-blooded Texan and Ranger, even though he came up with a team in Canada(!). And he looks like a douche. It's really hard to be critical of Michael Young because he throws it in your face with a hit to the opposite field once or twice a game, but he's the most overrated player on the roster, and one of the more overrated players in the game. By some fans, and by most media.
Ron Washington is really demonstrative and animated in the dugout, and he's a hell of a lot of fun to listen to talk, but he doesn't do much out of the ordinary when it comes to in-game management. Maybe his most distinguishing feature is that he loves to tell Elvis Andrus to bunt. He might tell Andrus to bunt at any time in any game. He probably just told Andrus to bunt right now.
Washington: Are you bunting?
I don't really know where else to put this, but here are two people on the Rangers who badly need to keep their hats on.
And this one is just the cutest:
This isn't a complete guide to the Rangers, but you'll notice that nowhere did I state that it would be a complete guide. I just said that it would be a guide, and hopefully now you're feeling better informed. Here's to a long and compelling World Series, and in closing, know this: win or lose, the Rangers will probably be back before the Cardinals are.