How the Rangers can still rebound to win the World Series
Texas showed an impressive ability to bounce back in the ALDS and ALCS
The Giants are one win from their first World Series championship since 1954
The Rangers still have the superior lineup but need Vlad Guerrero to start hitting
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Down here, deep in the heart of Texas, the Rangers aren't dead yet. They ran into a tandem of "buzz saws'' (Rangers coach Clint Hurdle's words) in Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner -- a pair of 20-something pitchers for the Giants who shut Texas down in Games 2 and 4 -- and (possibly worse for the Rangers) also continue to face the Giants' winning exacta of momentum and mojo.
Overcoming a 3-games-to-1 deficit may be a long shot but it's not impossible. "Why not?'' asked Rangers outfielder Jeff Francoeur about his team's chances of winning three straight games and the World Series. Well yes, teams have come back from 3-1 down before in the World Series. And yes, the Rangers have the incomparable Cliff Lee going for them Monday night in Game 5 -- and a lot more than that, too, as they try to pull off an improbable come-from-behind World Series victory. And they have quite a few going against them, as well. Here is a list of the things that will help them, and also those that will hinder them as they try to beat the odds and rally to win their first World Series.
1. Cliff Lee is pitching Game 5. Lee is exactly the starter you'd want in this game. He's a guy who apparently doesn't like to be thrown off his routine, so it doesn't appear the Rangers ever seriously considered moving him, C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis up on three days' rest and skipping No. 4 starter Tommy Hunter. When Lee's pitching on exactly four days' rest, as he will Monday night, he's almost unbeatable. His overall postseason record of 7-0 with a 1.28 ERA before his surprise shellacking on eight days' rest in Game 1 puts him at the top of the alltime postseason greats. And he faced exactly this situation last October, pitching the Phillies past the Yankees in Game 5 to keep Philadelphia's season alive. Rangers people expect the usual from Lee in Game 5. "He's a frickin' robot,'' is the colorful way Wilson put it. Rangers people are understandably confident about this game. "I'll see you in San Francisco,'' one Rangers person said late Sunday night, meaning he had no doubt Lee would deliver. Can't really blame him for that.
2. The rest of their pitching is lined up pretty well. If the Rangers do push the series back to the Bay Area, Wilson and Lewis will follow Lee in Games 6 and 7 on five days' rest. Wilson and Lewis already have pitched very good games in this series, and Lewis, who won Game 3 and would be the starter in the decisive Game 7, matches up well with the Giants as a pitcher who relies heavily on breaking stuff, the very breaking stuff that befuddled the Giants in Texas' lone victory in this series. Rangers people have expressed a modicum of concern about the blister issue that's dogged Wilson for a lot of the year, however; but Wilson insisted confidently, "I'm fine.''
3. They have been a resilient team. In the ALDS against the Rays, after losing two games at home in the ALCS and all the momentum they had built from winning the first two on the road, they still came back to win the deciding Game 5 of that series in St. Petersburg, Fla. In the ALCS they blew a 5-1 lead against the vaunted Yankees in Game 1 and lost but then blew away baseball's dynastic team, winning four of the next five games in convincing fashion. They know they have it in them to do better than they have so far this series. "Obviously we have the capability of more,'' Rangers leader Michael Young said. "We trust our work. We trust our approach.''
4. On paper, this Rangers team still has the better lineup. It has more speed, and more power than the Giants. You'd think so, anyway. Texas led the American League in hitting, not that you'd know it from this series, during which they've batted .211 and have a .592 OPS. They have only 26 hits, which is the same number of runs the Giants have scored. They were fairly impressed by 21-year-old prodigy Bumgarner, who threw four pitches for strikes in his 4-0 victory over them in Game 4 on Sunday, and maybe just a little less so in Cain. But they haven't been quite on their game, either. "We need to string some things together,'' Hurdle said. "We have missed a few. We've had a few pitches to hit and haven't squared 'em up.''
1. The Giants do seem to have some mojo and momentum. Not only that, they are probably a bit better than many of us suspected. It's actually "a little bit of all'' those things, said Cody Ross, the mojo man himself, who has five postseason home runs, the same number as all-word Rangers star Josh Hamilton.
2. Ross trumpeted their togetherness. And now is not a time to doubt anything Ross says. "We play well together. We have the right chemistry,'' Ross said. "Nobody in here is selfish. This is the only team I've ever been a part of that doesn't have one guy who's selfish.'' They also have some of the more mature kids you're going to find. The winning Game 4 battery of Bumgarner and catching sensation Buster Posey, which incidentally was the first all-rookie battery to start a World Series game since Spec Shea and Yogi Berra of the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1947 "act like veterans,'' said longtime Giant Shawon Dunston. "We've got some good young guys who know how to act. They're very humble.''
3. The Fountain of Youth appears to be part of their game. When aging shortstop Edgar Renteria, who looked like he was done (and Francoeur even used the expression "on his last legs'') and was even talking openly about coaching next year, looks like the best position player in this series, you start to think something special is happening. Renteria, now 35, is batting .429 with a 1.110 OPS and has a chance to provide the perfect bookend to a career that began in 1997, when he ended the World Series with a game-winning single of Cleveland's Jose Mesa for the Florida Marlins. Now, 13 years later, he is pulling a Ponce de Leon act. "I tell him every day, 'Have a flashback to 1997,'" Dunston said. Renteria said he hasn't surprised himself one bit. Francoeur said, "He knows he's on his last legs, but he knows how to handle the bat.'' And Young said, "He knows how to play the game. He's a pro.'' There is admiration all around for him.
4. Vladimir Guerrero is looking 55 years old lately. Like Renteria, Texas' cleanup hitter Vladimir Guerrero is 35, but he could barely move in right field in Game 1, necessitating his removal for Game 2 in San Francisco, where no DH is used. Back in Texas, Guerrero has taken some of the ugliest swings anyone's ever seen him take. Overall, he is just 1-for-10 with four strikeouts. "Vlad has gotten tied up a couple times,'' is the nice way Hurdle put it. Guerrero, who was the comeback player of the year in the American League, has suffered quite a comedown in his first World Series.
5. The Giants have great pitching lined up, too. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum matches up with Lee for Game 5, and Cain is pitching Game 6. Lincecum, the first man ever to win the Cy Young award in his first two full seasons, gives the Giants a fair shot to beat Lee Monday night in Game 5. And Cain gives them an excellent chance back home in San Francisco for Game 6, if necessary. "I feel good,'' Cain said. "If my start comes up, I'll be ready to go.'' No kidding. He hasn't allowed a run in 21 2/3 innings so far this postseason. And it isn't a matter of luck, either, as a few critics have suggested. Cain has been one of the better pitchers in the National League for a few years now, and only part of it is his stuff. While he looks younger than his 26 years, he has the ample tenacity and the poise of a tested veteran. The entire staff is excellent -- though if they do get to a Game 7 the Rangers might have a shot because that'll be the turn of Jonathan Sanchez, the talented left-hander who limited opposing batters to a league-low .204 batting average but finally appears bushed. Ross recalled what it was like when he tried hitting against the Giants, saying, "I hated facing these guys. It doesn't surprise me. These guys are really, really good.''
6. History heavily favors the Giants. Of the 44 teams trailing 3-1 entering Game 5, only six won the World Series. However, the odds are even worse if the current home team is trailing 3-1, as the Rangers are. Of the 20 teams exactly in the Rangers' spot, only the 1958 Yankees and 1979 Pirates came back to win three straight, with the final two being on the road. Making matters more daunting, in the case of Texas, they lost the first two games by the Bay by a combined score of 20-7.
The Brewers appear to be targeting Bobby Valentine to rescue their clubhouse and aid their ticket sales, with Joey Cora, Bob Melvin and Ron Roenicke believed to be running 2, 3 and 4 at the moment. Both owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin are thought to be favoring Valentine, though the team has been doing its due diligence and looking for answers as to why he hasn't received more offers despite a stellar track record. The biggest issue will likely be the dollars, though, as Valentine made $2.65 million per year on a three year deal nearly a decade ago with the Mets. He won't come cheaply. Eric Wedge, who's well regarded but doesn't have nearly the resume that Valentine does, got what was said to be "close to '' $1.9 million a year with the Mariners a couple weeks ago. Valentine is said by friends to have been very impressed with the Brewers people when he met with them, but as of Sunday still hadn't heard whether he's getting the offer.
It's hard to guess with new Mets GM Sandy Alderson about who he'll want to interview for the Mets' managing job. But former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, who's been offered the bench coach job in Baltimore and will take that job if he doesn't get a managing job, seems to fit the criteria of a smart, prepared guy with some experience. Before he managed in Seattle, where had one great year before seeming to lose the clubhouse early this season over a Ken Griffey Jr. divide, Wakamatsu coached in Oakland and Texas. He was also runner-up to Ron Washington for the managing job in Texas, but Rangers people eventually decided they "love Wash'' and also preferred a clean break from the Buck Showalter era. Former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record, "They need someone more high-profile than me.'' Some in-house candidates could get interviews, including Chip Hale, Ken Oberkfell, Bob Melvin, Terry Collins and Wally Backman -- though one person close to Alderson said, "I don't see a Sandy-Wally pairing.'' Melvin may not excite the fan base, but he's a smart, solid baseball person who was seen as compliant in his previous managing job with Arizona, which would fit Alderson's concept of manager as middle management.
A Chicago Sun-Times report suggested the White Sox wouldn't let the Marlins talk to manager Ozzie Guillen about a job without compensation. But the Marlins balked, ensuring Guillen would have at least one more year in a starring role in Chicago's South Side soap opera. That may explain why the Marlins may bring back interim manager Edwin Rodriguez for another year, which would make him the longest-running interim ever. Some Marlins people are said to be comfortable with another candidate, Bo Porter. But they may stick with Rodriguez while waiting on Guillen.
The Mets know they need a second baseman, a backup catcher and some late-inning relief help, and they'd also like to add another starter. The plan is for Olllie Perez to pitch in winter ball, and if the Mets can find a taker who'd be willing to pay a small chunk of Perez's $12 million salary, he could be dealt before spring training. Otherwise, they could bring him to spring training, and release him then if he's pitching like he did this year, when he posted an 0-5 record and a 6.80 ERA. The early word is that they'll probably keep Francisco Rodriguez, as they need a closer. It's unlikely they'll carry second baseman Luis Castillo into the season, and they'll probably look at free agency to fill that position, with Orlando Hudson a possibility again.
New Dodgers manager Don Matttingly is a great man who works hard and is full of integrity, but some longtime baseball people question whether he needed more seasoning before getting a managerial job in the majors. He ran out of pitchers in an Arizona Fall League game this week, raising a red flag. You wonder if the Dodgers' reluctance to give Tim Wallach approval to interview in a place or two (at least Toronto) is related to their confidence in Wallach long-term, as well.
Torii Hunter told Angels people he'd love for them to sign Carl Crawford. Hunter is said to believe the team needs to improve its table-setting abilities after losing Chone Figgins a year ago to free agency.
Angels owner Arte Moreno is one of the best. But someone needs to explain why respected trainer Ned Bergert, who'd been there 30 years, was let go.
Someone said Rangers president Nolan Ryan's first pitch for Game 3 was clocked at 68 mph. But Ryan, 63, told me he still believes that if he was given time to warm up, he could throw "somewhere in the 80s.'' I don't doubt it. Ryan once held the Guinness record for velocity at 100.9 mph, which he said was done with laser and is authentic. He said radar readings are inexact. The Reds' Aroldis Chapman is said to have hit 105 mph on radar, and Ryan's own Neftali Feliz has been over 100 mph himself.
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