The Power of Plan B: Texas Rangers-Detroit Tigers ALCS Game 6 Preview and Open Thread

Categories: Sports

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Not so long ago, Minnesota Twins backstop Joe Mauer was the consensus pick as baseball's best catcher. But the 2009 American League MVP, four-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and .323 career hitter had another injury-plagued season in 2011 (missing significant time for "leg weakness" of all things) and in 82 games managed just a .287 batting average, three home runs and 30 runs batted in. The eight-year, $184 million contract extension he signed in March 2010 is already looking like an albatross for the seven years remaining on the deal.

Six-time All-Star Brian McCann and three-time Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina come to mind quickly as the best in the game, and youngsters Carlos Santana, Alex Avila, Miguel Montero and Matt Wieters had breakout seasons. But, right now, Mike Napoli's the clear choice.

Nappy led all MLB catchers this year in BA (.320), HR (30), pitches per plate appearance (4.37), on-base percentage (.414), slugging percentage (.631) and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.046). That OPS, incidentally, was second to AL MVP-candidate Jose Bautista and ahead of some guy named Miguel Cabrera among all players. And only Bautista bested Napoli's 12.3 at-bats per home run ratio.

He's also among the top defenders at the position, with a fielding percentage this season (.996) comparable to McCann, Avila and Wieters (.995 each). Among players with at least 50 games behind the dish this year, Napoli was first in range factor (8.11), third in catcher's earned run average (3.18) and seventh in percentage of base runners thrown out (36.4).

In short, he's everything you want a catcher to be: a productive middle-of-the-order hitter and defensive whiz.

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Photo by Sam Merten
Adrian Beltre
And, not too long ago, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was considered the best at his position as well. But age (36), declining production and, like Mauer, an injury-plagued 2011 (.276 BA, 16 HR and 62 RBI in 99 games) remove him from the discussion. Also, like Mauer, A-Rod's contract looks like it's gonna get painful really soon (if it hasn't already), as he has a whopping six more years and $180 million (plus the potential to earn another $30 million more in milestone payments) left on his deal.

Veterans Kevin Youkilis, David Wright and Pablo Sandoval, along with up-and-comers David Freese and Ryan Zimmerman are on the fringes of the discussion, but it's really a debate among Evan Longoria, Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre.

Beltre (.276 BA, 310 HR, 1,113 RBI) and Ramirez (.284 BA, 315 HR, 1,122 RBI) have posted nearly identical offensive numbers throughout their respective 14-year careers, and both had strong 2011 campaigns, but the edge goes to Beltre because of his defensive prowess.

Longoria, who just turned 26, comes the closest to beating Beltre. Both are among the game's best defenders, combining to win the last four AL Gold Gloves at third (Beltre in '07 and '08, and Longoria in '09 and '10), but Beltre gets the nod for his better numbers with the stick.

Beltre out-performed Longoria (who's no offensive slouch) in nearly every category this season, even though he played in nine fewer games, finishing first in RBI (105), first in SLG (.561), second in HR (32), second in hits (144), tied for second in doubles (33), third in runs scored (82) and fourth in BA (.296) among all third baseman.

If there's an Achilles for Beltre, it's his inability to draw walks, as he had just 25 free passes this year. However, he doesn't strike out much (53 times) and ranked second only to Sandoval in OPS among third baseman.

Just like Napoli, he's pretty much everything you want a third baseman to be: a dangerous hitter and defensive master.

Good thing that whole Cliff Lee signing didn't work out.

After the club's ownership situation finally cleared up and the team made it to the World Series, the Rangers had dough to spend -- roughly $23 million a year -- which is what they offered Lee to stay in Arlington.

When Lee rebuffed their proposal and instead returned to Philadelphia, Texas turned its attention to improving the team in spite of his departure. It was time for Plan B.

Plan B included making additions to an already potent lineup and improving defensively. Signing Beltre and acquiring Napoli in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays actually saved the Rangers a little dough, as the two earned $21.8 million combined this year. (Texas also handed out $3 million to Brandon Webb, but let's forget about that.)

Now Texas has arguably the best two all-around players at catcher and third as key components to team on the verge of another World Series appearance, while Lee (five runs, 12 hits and two walks allowed in six innings in a Game 2 NLDS loss to St. Louis) and the rest of the Phillies aces couldn't get past the first round.

Thus far, Nelson Cruz has almost single-handedly carried the offensive load in the ALCS, blasting all five of the team's home runs and driving in 11 of their 24 runs. The rest of the lineup is hitting just .248 with a pathetic .335 SLG.

That has to change, doesn't it? And what better time than in a potential series-clinching Game 6. And who better to step up than Beltre and Napoli?

It's not like either player has been silent in the series, especially Napoli, who drove in Game 4's winning run. But Nappy doesn't have an extra-base hit yet. And Beltre, who appears to be 100 percent healthy, is hitting just .190 in the ALCS after three homers in the ALDS against the Rays.

It sure feels like one or both are ready to go bonkers, which could lead to early runs on the board for Texas. And I fully expect Jim Leyland to (finally) adjust to Cruz by making sure he sees mostly off-speed pitches, as Nellie's been crushing fastballs, especially inside ones. So, while Cruz has been incredible, I doubt he'll be tonight's hero. (Although I'd be happy to be wrong.)

A few runs early and a strong five innings from starter Derek Holland should be enough to advance Texas to its second World Series. After Holland, I expect we'll see a mix of Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz to keep the Tigers' offense at bay. Maybe even Matt Harrison will see some action (Ron Washington said he'll be available).

One more win. Just one more win.

Quick Hits

-- I'm feeling really good about originally picking Texas to win in six games.

-- Mitch Moreland is back on the bench tonight, with Young at first, Endy Chavez in left and David Murphy at DH.

-- Leyland said Justin Verlander won't make another appearance in this series, and Rick Porcello is available tonight out of the bullpen.

-- There has been lots of discussion about CC Sabathia's likely decision to opt out of the remaining four years and $92 million with the Yanks. A "baseball source" told ESPN New York that the Rangers have plans to "throw a boatload of money at him," even though the same source expects Sabathia to stay put.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post lists Texas among the teams he expects to make a run at Sabathia, as does ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required).

I expect the Rangers to make a serious offer, but I don't see the Yankees letting him slip away with their need to add pitching, not subtract their ace.

-- Of the 22 teams with home-field advantage in a best-of-seven series and a 3-1 series lead to lose Game 5, just six of them failed to win one of the final two games.

-- Dirk Nowitzki needs to get his priorities in order.

See y'all in the comments!

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321 comments
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154443

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Uncle Barky
Uncle Barky

Never thought I'd be saying this: Get that NFC East mediocrity off my screen and bring me the a Mathew Stafford Lions Niners preemption. Where the hell is that little Deon Fairy when you need him? I promise I'll put the fly swatter away.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

We need the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Mavericks to pay a visit to Jerry World to show the Dallas Cowboys what winners look like.   Congratulations to the Texas Rangers—JOB WELL DONE!

scottindallas
scottindallas

This has been a very appropriate Championship Series--with the degeneration in DC, the OWS, the economic and programming doldrums of the West Coast--this has been the CS of the Central Time Zone. A midwest Spring amidst a long barren Winter on the coasts

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

I'm outta here. More sports crying and drinking to do.

I love y'all ... almost as much as the Rangers. Thanks for joining me throughout the ALCS.

cactusflinthead
cactusflinthead

Yep, hello win column.I don't know what it is like to expect this sort of result every year. It still seems surreal when I say out loud, "The Texas Rangers are in the World Series."

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Shut the fuck up, McCarver. There wasn't any question about the best team in the AL last year.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Helllllllllllllllo win column. And Your Texas Rangers are American League champs again!

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

I have three things to say to you:

1: I love steak, boneless ribeyes over charcoal to be specific.

2: I love the Rangers.

3: I love Texas!!!

Ed D.
Ed D.

One out away. The Mayans might be on to something.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

 Last year, when the Rangers clinched the pennant, I went outside. I live in NW Dallas, and you could hear cheers and hollering all over the place, like it was the Bronx 1953. Doing it back to back feels somehow even more extraordinary -- unthinkable for the team that inspired Seasons in Hell.

MoronDog
MoronDog

Get the Ginger Ale out..................

gofuhcureself
gofuhcureself

incredible. am i dreaming? back to back AL Pennants for the Rangers? Unreal!!!

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

They sent the first episode of Allen Gregory, which features Jonah Hill. I don't think I can stomach the vague concept of watching it, much less actually watching it.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

That V-Mart guy is pretty good too.

gofuhcureself
gofuhcureself

Cardinals? or Brewers? Will we win it this year?

cactusflinthead
cactusflinthead

Don't you think it is time you took a nice long trip to Rome? 

Gabe
Gabe

from that page, "I tried looking up the last time a team had come back from a 9-2 deficit in the deciding game of a playoff series, but my Google search results were, "HAHA! LET IT GO".

Nice.

G_David
G_David

Did you notice how he immediately backed off the mike, after saying "that beard sucked" in front of 50k+ people, realizing too late that there were many young'uns there?

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

See you Wednesday. If not before.

(in Norm voice): I love you.

cactusflinthead
cactusflinthead

I had to switch to radio. Nadel and Buzz rescued me from doing damage to myself.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

 Ed! The boy was listening in bed, on his radio, and hopped up to watch it on the teevee.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

 On a related note, why is there a beaver in The Lodge ad to the right? I don't get it. We should go find out.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

It's gonna be Rangers-Cards, with Texas winning it all.

MoronDog
MoronDog

This is fucking awesome!!!!

To quote the great Rhynes....

"I LOVE THE RANGERS!!!!!"

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Don't know about a beaver, but I'm damn sure after a Range as soon as this post game is over.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

I'll think about it. Good thing is I'm quite equipped to evaluate the Cards, as they're my favorite NL team, and I've watched the NLCS closely.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

 I look forward to that essay ... Wednesday, or before?

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

I actually like the All-Star Game having so much meaning. And you really can't compare the records of Texas and St. Louis because they play in different leagues.

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