Sometimes your favorite team doesn't make the playoffs, and if you're in that unenviable position this year, we at Beyond the Box Score want to help you decide who you're going to root for (or against) this postseason. We'll be publishing ten articles, one for each playoff team, with writers laying out the case in favor of and opposed to each team. In this, we examine the team that set new highs in winning one-run games: the Texas Rangers.
Root for the Rangers
Think back to the night of October 27, 2011. It's Game 6 of the World Series, and the Texas Rangers are playing against the St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium. They are one strike away from winning their first World Series, ever. Instead, the Cardinals tie the game in the bottom of the 10th inning courtesy of a Lance Berkman single, then win on a walk-off home run by David Freese in the bottom of the 11th inning. That forces a Game Seven that the Cardinals win the very next night.
That memory has hung over the franchise's head ever since. They're one of only eight teams that have never won the World Series, and they were so close before seeing it fall away. That alone should make you root for the Rangers in the playoffs this year, but there are plenty of other reasons to pull for them.
Adrian Beltre – How can anyone root against Adrian Beltre? I'll answer that for you; they can't. Adrian Beltre is all that is good and fun in baseball. Sure, he may loathe when people touch his head—I'm the same way with my love handles though I'm not as violent as he tends to be—but it would be so satisfying to see him finally get a World Series ring. He's been in the Majors since 1998 and is turning 38 at the start of next season. This could be his last chance at winning a ring. And who knows? Maybe he may be so elated about winning a World Series that he may finally let someone touch his head without smacking them!
Carlos Beltran – What do you picture in your head when you think of Carlos Beltran and the playoffs?
Yep. Your mind will more often than not go back to the last pitch of the 2006 NLCS. And while that's understandable, it's unfair to Beltran, who has been a very good player for the entirety of his career in baseball. At 39 and reaching the end of his contract, it seems more likely than not that this is his last season as a player. So perhaps Beltran could experience some redemption, and create a new moment for us to think remember? Maybe he could get the big hit that helps the Rangers win their first title. Wouldn't that be fun to watch?
Prince Fielder – Fielder was a once-outstanding player who was forced to quit baseball because of a neck injury. He seems like one of those good guys you really want to root for, and seeing him have to leave the sport he loves so much was a hard pill for many fans to swallow—even those fans who don't root for the Rangers. So how great would it be for his team to go out and get a ring for him? I could get behind that. And I think you should too.
The First Time – I'm a Yankee fan so I don't know what it's like to see your franchise win its first ever World Series, but I do know what it's like to see my team win one after a long drought. I was too young to appreciate or remember when the Yankees won back-to-back titles in 1977 and '78, but I had just turned 22 years-old when they won it all in 1996, and the feeling of seeing your team finally win a World Series is indescribable. I was on an emotional high for about a week after Charlie Hayes caught that pop up in foul territory, and I can only imagine what it would be like for lifelong Rangers fans if they finally broke through. They deserve to feel that sense of euphoria.
So root for the Rangers! They've got multiple redemption storylines, lovable old players, and a huge championship drought just begging to be broken. If you're looking for a team to bandwagon with during the playoffs, you can't do much better than that.
* * *
Root against the Rangers
Are you sick and tired of teams constantly outperforming projections? Do teams like the Orioles constantly make you, the smart and mathematically-gifted baseball fan, look silly? Are you tired of explaining and defending things like "regression to the mean" and "scatter-luck"? More personally, do you really want to have to explain to your uncle at Thanksgiving why the Rangers were more lucky than good? I didn't think so.
Frankly, the Rangers aren't even supposed to be in this position. Texas is a whopping 36-11 in one-run games. 36 of their victories could have gone either way if a ball dinked or dunked differently. Texas' +8 run differential is eighth in the American League, significantly behind the Mariners 61 and even lower than the far-more-exciting Astros and Tigers (none of whom made the playoffs).
Beyond Adrian Beltre, the Rangers lineup is a pile of cast-offs and trade-bait sent away as other teams rebuild. Jonathan Lucroy is only there because he denied a trade to a better team (Cleveland), Carlos Beltran only arrived because of the Yankees firesale (if The Boss were around, Beltran wouldn't be in Texas), and Ian Desmond's .350 BABIP is about to crash down to earth. This is less a team, and more a collection of players who happen to all travel on the same airplane.
For a bandwagon fan, it might seem obvious to take the AL's highest seed, and root for them to crush the competition. One can even claim you've been on the Rangers' train all season, but it ain't gonna last, folks, believe me. Texas is the most cluster-lucky, positive-sequence-receiving team in the playoffs. For the sake of sabermetrics, root against them; for the sake of justice, root for the madness to end!