There are easy roads to the MLB playoffs, and there is the road the Rangers have taken. On June 7th, the Rangers were a half-game out in the AL West, courtesy of the Angels ripping off six wins in a row. Then began the run. At that point, the Rangers' next 18 games were against the Mariners, Brewers, Marlins, Astros, and Pirates. Texas went 16-2 over that span, coming out with a 4.5-game lead and never again looking back. The lead hit six games for the first time on July 22nd, and from that point on the Rangers' playoff odds remained stable and large.
I wouldn't say the Rangers have been coasting, but for months, now, they've had little reason to worry. The Mariners were dead. The Angels were gassed. The A's were never going to make a run. I won't say that they did, but if the Rangers let up on the pedal just a bit, I couldn't blame them. We did see them take their time late in the year with injuries to Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler. The wide division lead allowed them to be cautious and safe, and theirs is a roster that's at just about full strength with the playoffs set to begin.
Obviously, the big difference between the Rangers now and the Rangers six months ago is that the Rangers now have Cliff Lee, who they landed from Seattle in July. Lee was brought in to succeed in the playoffs, and now he'll get that chance. Behind him, the team is confident in CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, and the bullpen. The questions will be whether Lee can shake off some inconsistency since the trade, and whether Josh Hamilton will be able to contribute from the middle of the order given that he's coming off some back and rib trouble. That he homered on Saturday should ease some concerns.
Josh Hamilton (LF; .359 BA, .411 OBP, .633 SLG)
Nelson Cruz (RF; .318 BA, .374 OBP, .576 SLG)
Vladimir Guerrero (DH; .300 BA, .345 OBP, .496 SLG)
Cliff Lee (SP; 3.18 ERA, 10.3 K/BB)
CJ Wilson (SP; 3.35 ERA, 1.8 K/BB)
Neftali Feliz (RP; 2.73 ERA, 3.9 K/BB)