Former Rangers’ Greats Impacting the 2013 Postseason
The Pittsburgh Pirates ended up having a relatively brief postseason run this year, getting eliminated by the eventual National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals despite extending the NL Division Series to a full five games. It was the Pirates’ first trip to the playoffs in 21 years, and was the first time in Marlon Byrd’s 12-year career that he’d made it to the postseason.
Byrd, who spent three seasons in the Texas outfield (2007-2009), immediately took advantage of this long-awaited opportunity, by hitting a solo home run in his very first career postseason at-bat, staking the Pirates to a lead they would never relinquish en route to a 6-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card game.
Even though the Pirates did not end up winning the NLDS, Byrd was very solid at the plate, ending his first-ever postseason with a slash line of .364/.391/.591 and 5 RBI in six games. It’s unfortunate that his inaugural playoff journey ended so soon, but he definitely seized the long-awaited opportunity and made a significant impact.
Adrián González broke into the bigs with the Texas Rangers in 2004, playing a total of 59 games over portions of his first two seasons, before being traded after the 2005 season to the San Diego Padres. All he’s gone on to do since then is make four All-Star teams and place in the league MVP voting five different seasons. Considering all the Rangers really got in return for him was a mediocre, intermittently healthy starting pitcher rental (Adam Eaton) and a fairly decent reliever in the twilight of his career (Akinori Otsuka), they almost certainly wish they could have a do-over.
After spending seven very productive seasons with the Padres and then the Boston Red Sox, González has been with the Los Angeles Dodgers since being traded there from Boston in August of 2012. He’d only played in the postseason once before, with San Diego in 2006, until triumphantly returning this year. In just his second playoff at-bat as a Dodger, González clubbed a two-run HR over the centerfield fence, extending the Los Angeles lead from 2-0 to 4-0. The Dodgers would go on to take Game 1 by a score of 6-1, on their way to an eventual 3-1 series win and NL Championship Series matchup with the Cardinals.
Like Byrd before him, González had his playoff run ended by those very same Cardinals. And just like Byrd, González did not go down without a fight, finishing his 2013 postseason with a solid .316/.366/.605 slash in 10 games. He also hit 3 HR and 7 RBI, with his power most prominently displayed in Game 5 of the NLCS, when he slugged a pair of home runs (including a massive 450-foot shot). The Dodgers did not advance to the World Series, but it was through no fault of González.
Koji Uehara was a fan favorite during his time with the Texas Rangers, and he was a solid contributor out of the bullpen in his season-and-a-half with the club – especially last season, when he posted a 1.75 ERA with 43 strikeouts and only 3 walks in 36 innings. But as good as he was for the Rangers last year, he was even better with the Boston Red Sox this year. Koji’s ERA this season dropped all the way down to 1.09, along with a microscopic WHIP of 0.57 and a mind-blowing strikeout-to-walk ratio of 101-to-9.
Seemingly defying the laws of age, physics and probability all at once, Koji has somehow managed to get even better this postseason, lowering both his ERA (0.90) and WHIP (0.50) and walking ZERO while striking out 13 in nine innings of work. The Red Sox are now in the World Series, and while they’ve gotten key contributions from several players throughout this year’s postseason, Koji’s have been as valuable as any. Most Ranger fans are probably already pulling for Boston simply because they still harbor ill will toward St. Louis after what happened in 2011, but regardless of who would have represented the NL in this year’s World Series, it’s hard to imagine anyone in these parts rooting against Koji.
“Salty,” as Ranger fans called him when he was here (2007-2010), was known primarily for two things: (1) being part of the blockbuster Mark Teixeira trade with Atlanta that brought him to Texas along with – most notably – Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz, and (2) having the highest-scoring Scrabble name in franchise history.
Salty had a pretty nice year at the plate for the Red Sox, posting a career-high batting average of .273, which is 27 points above his .246 career average. And though he was unable to replicate his 25-HR season of 2012 (hitting just 14 this year), he set a new career high for extra base hits in a season with 54, which included 40 doubles – good for sixth in the AL.
His overall postseason numbers have been quite disappointing so far this year (.207/.258/.241), but he did make a significant impact on Game 1 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, when he went 2-4 with a double and 3 RBI in Boston’s 12-2 win. There’s still time left for Salty to make more of a contribution, but as it stands now, he’s been the least significant of the former Ranger greats in the 2013 postseason.
Of all the moves the Rangers made last offseason, the one fans were most pained by was the departure of Mike Napoli. It’s not that the team didn’t like him, it’s just that Nap’s health was a major concern. The Boston Red Sox decided to gamble on Nap, and it paid off rather nicely, as he posted a 4.1 WAR this season. His numbers were up across the board in 2013, compared to last year, other than a minimal drop in home runs from 24 to 23.
Never in his entire career has Napoli played better than during the 2011 postseason, when he was an absolute beast at (and behind) the plate for the Rangers. The Red Sox had to be hoping he’d brought some of that October magic with him to Boston this year, and while it’s certainly not been anything on the level of what he did two postseasons ago, he’s certainly had his moments in 2013.
Napoli has 6 XBH and 6 RBI so far this postseason, with key contributions in several games. In Game 3 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, Nap provided the only scoring by hitting a solo shot off of Justin Verlander, who was otherwise dominant on the night (10 K and 1 BB in 10 IP). Two games later, Nap went deep again, this time off of Anibal Sanchez in a 4-3 win that gave Boston a series lead they would never relinquish en route to their World Series matchup with the Cardinals.
Nap was most recently one of the heroes in an 8-1 World Series-opening win over St. Louis, in which he smacked a three-run first inning double off of Adam Wainwright, starting a snowball of momentum that ended up flattening the Cardinals that night. With at least three more games to play in this year’s World Series, Napoli still has several chances to make his presence felt again.
So, while it’s definitely disappointing for Ranger fans that Texas did not make it to the 2013 postseason, at least there are several former Ranger greats who have made it interesting to watch, including three still alive in pursuit of the championship they weren’t able to get during their time in Arlington. And if the Rangers can’t win it all this year, isn’t seeing some of your favorite former Rangers battling to win it the next best thing?