The season series suggests that the Red Sox and Rangers are comparably talented. Both teams are capable of beating each other's brains out, something that Texas did six times against the Sox, with Boston returning the favor on four occasions.
The average margin of difference in those 10 games, including Sunday’s series finale that the Rangers won 11-4 (recap), was a ridiculous 6.4 runs per contest. It was, by and large, a punch-drunk battle of heavyweights.
That said, the 10 contests carried a significant subtext given the shape that the pennant race is taking. If the season ended right now, the Sox (who are 1½ games behind the Yankees in the AL East) would cruise into the postseason as a wild card. The Rangers, who are up 3½ games over the Angels in the AL West and 1½ games ahead of AL Central leader Detroit, would host Boston in the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s a big possibility we’re going to face them,” acknowledged Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre.
The Sox suggested that they would not be worried about such a matchup. Given what they did in winning three of four against the Rangers in Arlington, the fact that Texas won the season series would not leave them short on confidence should they meet again in October.
“We don’t have any doubts, any concerns,” said Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Everybody wanted to talk after the first three games [of the season, which the Rangers swept] when we went to their place, and we took three out of four [in August]. We’re not too concerned on our side. We just need to go out there and play our game.”
Yet while the Red Sox were not blown out in the regular-season series, there was plenty to suggest that the Rangers could represent as difficult a postseason matchup for them as there is in the American League. A closer look:
THE SOUTHPAW BRIGADE
The Rangers feature a trio of left-handed starters who showed the ability to dominate the Sox. In six combined starts, C.J. Wilson, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland went a combined 4-1 with a 2.82 ERA.
All three showed the ability to overpower the Boston lineup. Wilson having delivered an outing of six shutout innings against the Sox in August, Harrison having sandwiched a dreadful outing in August in Texas with a pair of seven-inning efforts in which he permitted a combined three runs, and Holland having tossed seven shutout innings against the Sox for the win on Friday.
In a short, five-game series, it would seem likely that those three southpaws would start at least four of five games. And that could be a daunting proposition for the Sox.
Boston has been better than expected against left-handers this year, going 30-19 in games started by left-handers. That has been due in large part to the excellence of David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury against left-handers.
However, while that trio has gone 17-for-49 (.347) against the Rangers’ three southpaw starters, they have been held to just three doubles and no homers along with a .408 slugging mark. The ability to neutralize the extra-base power of the Sox’ three top power-hitting threats, in turn, has permitted Wilson, Harrison and Holland the ability to minimize the damage being done by the Boston lineup, something that, in turn, gave the Rangers lineup ample opportunity to make its mark against the Sox staff.
Speaking of which …
SOX STARTERS STRUGGLED TO HOLD IT TOGETHER AGAINST TEXAS
Of the 10 games between the two teams, Sox starters managed to hold Texas to three or fewer runs in just three outings. Andrew Miller -- who would almost certainly not be part of the postseason rotation -- did it once, while Josh Beckett and Erik Bedard both likewise submitted quality starts.
Overall, Sox starters had a 7.93 ERA against the Rangers. It is worth noting that the Rangers have exhibited some vulnerability against left-handers this year, with a 21-20 record in contests started by an opposing southpaw.
That said, Texas handled Jon Lester on Opening Day, rebounded from Miller’s strong start in Arlington to knock him out after just four outs on Friday, and was hardly overwhelmed by Bedard in his solid-but-not-stellar six-inning, three-run outing on Saturday.
Even so, the Rangers faced Lester at a time when he did not yet have his best stuff. Bedard, meanwhile, is 5-4 with a 3.49 ERA in 15 career starts against the Rangers, including a 3.68 mark against Texas since the start of 2009. So, there is hope for the Sox to hold down the Rangers lineup, even if that didn’t often seem to be the case in the season series.
MIKE NAPOLI: BEAST
Though limited to 95 games this season, Mike Napoli is enjoying a career year now that he has relocated from the Angels to the Rangers in the AL West. He is essentially having the same year as Sox slugger David Ortiz (albeit in fewer games), hitting .293 with a .392 OBP, a .583 slugging mark, a .975 OPS and 23 homers.
Of those 23 homers, five have come against the Sox, who have been unable to figure out the stocky catcher ever since roughly the 2008 ALDS, when he hit two Josh Beckett offerings in the vicinity of the Mass. Turnpike.
The latest Sox pitcher to be victimized was reliever Michael Bowden. Napoli unloaded on a 92 mph 2-0 fastball, bashing it over the camera well and off the back wall in straightaway center field.
The blast was measured by Home Run Tracker at 446 feet, the third longest given up by the Sox this year.
Of course, for Napoli, such a power display against the Sox is nothing new.
“He’ll miss a pitch, then you’ll repeat it in the next at-bat, that high fastball, and he hit it off the back wall. We’ve seen him do that before,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s hit balls in our bullpen. We thought we made a pitch on him in Texas and he hit it in our bullpen. He’s a big strong kid. Sometimes he hits them, sometimes he doesn’t, but when he does, they go a long way.”
NAPOLI IS NOT ALONE
Incredibly, Napoli may not even be the Rangers hitter who does the most damage against the Sox. Suffice it to say that a number of Texas lineup members appear as if they cannot wait to face Boston.
Since the start of the 2009 season, five different Rangers players have an OPS of .950 or better (roughly Adrian Gonzalez/Ortiz territory) in 50-plus plate appearances against the Sox. Indeed, one of the striking things about Texas’ 28 runs in three games is the fact that the player who has done the most damage against the Sox in recent years -- Nelson Cruz, who has the second-highest average, sixth-highest OBP and second-highest slugging mark against the Sox of any player in the majors since 2009 -- wasn’t even playing.
Napoli and Kinsler have both gone deep 10 times against the Sox in the past three seasons, an incredible number given that both have been in the AL West that entire time. Ex-Sox David Murphy has offered his former club a painful reminder of an Eric Gagne deal gone bad every time he’s seen Boston. And Josh Hamilton has been, well, very much like Josh Hamilton against the Sox.
“You’re going to give up runs when you face good teams,” said Saltalamacchia. “You’ve got to tip your cap when you’ve got a good-hitting team that doesn’t miss too many pitches.”
Here are the three-year (2009-11) totals against Boston for a group of players who have ranked among the top Sox nemeses in recent years:
Nelson Cruz: .392 average (2nd best in majors, min. 50 plate appearances), .444 OBP (6th), .730 slugging (2nd), 5 HR
Mike Napoli: .305 average, .389 OBP, .720 slugging (3rd), 10 HR (T-5th)
Ian Kinsler: .292 average, .370 OBP, .685 slugging (4th), 10 HR (T-5th)
David Murphy: .352 average (T-7th), .395 OBP, .592 slugging (7th), 3 HR
Josh Hamilton: .323 average, .407 OBP, .556 slugging, 4 HR