The Rangers have a chance to go to the World Series for a third straight year. They would also like to take it one step further and win it all, something that has eluded them the past two years.That goal hasn't changed even though the Rangers enter the playoffs as one of two American League Wild Card teams. They have to win a one-game playoff against the Orioles on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CT on TBS at the Ballpark in Arlington. If the Rangers do that, they are right back where they were at the start of the past two postseasons. The format is different, but the goal is the same: to win it all. Five keys to making it happen:
1. Hit with runners in scoring position: The Rangers have been hot and cold in this situation all season. They were cold in September, and that led to the late-season slide that cost them the division title. The Rangers hit .217 with runners in scoring position in their last 17 games and ended up 7-10 in that stretch.2. Starting pitching: Yu Darvish will open the playoffs, and Matt Harrison will follow if the Rangers advance. Derek Holland will likely be the third starter followed by Ryan Dempster. The Rangers need their starting pitching to hold up their end. Last year in the playoffs, Texas starters were 4-6 with a 4.47 ERA. They averaged just over five innings per start, and only four times in 17 games did a Rangers starter pitch at least six innings. Colby Lewis pitched two of those four, and he will miss the postseason with a torn flexor tendon. The Rangers' bullpen wore down last October because of the excess work. Texas can't let that happen again this season. 3. Bullpen: Joe Nathan has plenty of postseason experience with the Twins, but he's 1-for-3 in save opportunities with a 7.88 ERA. Mike Adams may miss at least the first round because of pain and numbness in his neck, shoulder and arm. Koji Uehara pitched brilliantly in September, but Alexi Ogando has a 5.40 ERA since Sept. 1. The guy who could end up being a big factor is Roy Oswalt, who has pitched well in relief. The Rangers need a strong bullpen. 4. Find Ian Kinsler: The All-Star second baseman has been outstanding in postseason play over the past two years. In 33 playoff games, Kinsler has hit .303 with a .413 on-base percentage and .479 slugging percentage. He has scored 17 runs and stolen six bases. That's in 33 playoff games. In Kinsler's last 33 games this season, he's hit .207 with a .270 on-base percentage and a .363 slugging percentage. He needs to get his game back up to the level that the Rangers have seen in the playoffs the past two years. 5. Regain their swagger: The Rangers took a beating in Oakland this past week. They were 15-16 in their final 31 games. They just aren't playing their kind of baseball consistently, and they're not intimidating anybody with their offensive muscle. They're not putting pressure on teams by running the bases with abandon. They need to regain the swagger that made them two-time American League champs. They need to be the Rangers again.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.