Road hasn't been kind to Rangers
Team will have to reverse trend away from home to move on in postseason
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It doesn't take an advanced degree in Sabermetrics to figure out that the Texas Rangers' only shot of winning a playoff series for the first time in franchise history is to win on the road.
Of course, in a five-game series, that means winning one game away from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as long as they take care of business at home.
But winning even one game requires reversing an alarming trend in 2010. Texas played the three other American League playoff teams on the road a dozen combined games this season. They were 0-for-12. In fact, the Rangers are the only playoff team with a losing record on the road (39-42). It's something they must fix before the end of this series.
Oh, by the way, the Tampa Bay Rays had the best road record in the American League this season, so they won't be intimidated by packing any suitcases and heading to Texas. The New York Yankees have the second-best road mark and the Minnesota Twins are fourth.
That makes the Rangers the odd-ball team that made the playoffs without playing particularly well away from home.
"I don't think you concern yourself with what you've done once you reach this point," manager Ron Washington said. "We feel good about ourselves as far as coming up in here and playing good baseball and our type of baseball. If we play our type of baseball, I don't think it matters if we're on the road or at home. To say exactly what we have to do, I don't have an answer for that. But I can only say that I'll take our best game Wednesday and take my chances."
When you take just the club's stats among AL playoff teams on the road, some troubling trends emerge. Texas scored 3.7 runs per game in three road games against the Rays, 3.2 against the Twins and 2.0 against the Yankees.
Against the Rays, the Rangers hit just .227 in a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field in mid-August. And the pitching staff had an 8.63 ERA. That included a start by Cliff Lee in the first game of that series.
Lee had a 4-2 lead in the eighth when the Rangers' defense fell apart. Joaquin Arias didn't catch a bloop in right field that went for a double and tried to go to second base instead of getting the sure out at first, and the inning continued. Lee also surrendered some hard hits, but the inning should have been over. The Rays scored four runs in the inning and won the game.
That Losing Feeling
The Rangers' and Twins' nine-game postseason skids are tied with the Cubs for the longest active streak.
Longest playoff skids in MLB history
But that series can also show why you must use caution when predicting postseason outcomes based on regular-season results.
The Rangers didn't have slugger Nelson Cruz in Tampa in August. He injured his hamstring in the series with Boston just before the club headed to Florida. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was still nursing a left groin strain and catcher Matt Treanor, scheduled to catch C.J. Wilson in Game 2, was also on the DL. Third baseman Michael Young missed the final two games of the series. Jeff Francoeur, who could end up being a critical player for this team in the postseason against left-handed pitching, was still a New York Met.
"The postseason is also completely different," Francoeur said. "When I was in Atlanta in '05, we went to Houston and took three out of four there and then lost both in the playoffs and were knocked out. Anything can happen. We'd rather have a better road record, but with the team we've got, we're confident we can do things."
Francoeur admits that a more experienced team might have performed better on the road. But this is a young Rangers team that will go through first-time jitters and nervous moments as it embarks on the franchise's first playoff journey in 11 years.
"If you're not nervous, something's not right," Cruz said. "But it's just like playing in the World Baseball Classic or the Home Run Derby. Once you start playing, it's the same game. That's true whether it's here or back home."
While the overall offensive statistics on the road aren't pretty for the Rangers, they did have some hitters perform well away from Arlington.
Hamilton returned for three games this weekend and said he was sore, but healthy enough to play. He hit a home run on Saturday and appeared to be moving around pretty well despite small fractures in two ribs.
David Murphy hit pretty evenly at home or away, but was .294 with five homers and 25 RBIs on the road in 2010. He's still nursing a slight left groin strain, but the Rangers hope he can run well enough to play in the series. Vladimir Guerrero batted .284 with 13 homers and 52 RBIs on the road (he was .317 with 16 homers and 63 RBIs at home).
"Now that we have a full team, we'll see," Francoeur said. "Things can be different on the road now."
The Rangers know they need to be if they want to advance to their first American League Championship Series.