The Texas Rangers are on a roll over the last week. Since the playoffs have started Texas has won four games in a row. They beat Tampa in two in the wild card round and now have a commanding 2-0 lead against the Orioles. Texas is one win away from clinching a spot in the American League Championship(ALCS) series.
Globe Life Field is guaranteed to be painted in Rangers' red, blue, and white. Every seat will likely be filled and the crowd will be loud. None of that guarantees a Texas Rangers win. Texas has a sordid history at home in the divisional round going all the way back to their first playoff appearance back in 1996. Texas is 1-11 at home in the divisional round. Let's take a look at that history and then look at what Texas needs to do to wrap this up on Tuesday night.
Texas and their struggles at home in the Division Series
One of the more unexplainable facts about this franchise is that they struggle to win home games in the divisional round. In the 1990's they faced the New York Yankees three times and went 0-4 at home in 1996,1998, and 1999. Each of those Yankees teams would go on to win the World Series. Those Rangers' teams were good, but they were facing Yankees' teams that no one was beating. The 1998 team set a record for wins and the 1999 team just continued the dynasty. So maybe those four losses are more understandable.
The part where it gets weird is in 2010 and 2011. Those Rangers' teams made it to the World Series in each season. Yet, in the divisional round they were 1-3 at home in those seasons. They came home in 2010 up 2-0 and lost both games at home and had to clinch their first playoff series win on the road in Tampa. In 2011 they lost game 1 to Matt Moore, but responded by winning game 2. They got a well pitched five innings from Derek Holland in that game and then scored eight runs behind a home run from Mitch Moreland, and multiple RBIs from Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli. That win ended their home losing streak.
Texas has not been able to add to that since 2011. In 2015 they came home up 2-0 against the Toronto Blue Jays needing just one win to clinch a spot in the ALCS. Toronto scored five runs off Martin Perez in game three and knocked out Derek Holland early in game four on their way to wins in both games. Every Texas Rangers fan knows how game five unfolded in that series.
In 2016 Texas entered the playoffs as the number one seed having won 95 games and hosted the first two games. They had their best pitchers Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish lined up to pitch in games 1 and 2. It should have been a recipe for at least one win. They lost game 1 10-1 as Hamels allowed seven runs and six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. The offense did not score till the ninth inning. In game 2 Darvish pitched deeper as he went five innings, but he also allowed five runs. Texas lost game two 5-3. Texas would go on to get swept in that series.
Texas has lost games as the underdog, they have lost games as the favorite. Each time the stadium was filled. I can attest to at least one of those games. I was in attendance in 2010 for game three of the divisional series. It was full, it was loud, and in the end, Texas did not win. That has been their M.O. in every home divisional round game except for game two of the 2011 series.
How can Texas win game three and move on to the ALCS?
Texas needs to finish this off in game three and not give Baltimore any hope or momentum in this series. It all starts with Nathan Eovaldi. One of the common denominators in all of these losses is poor starting pitching. Whether it be Martin Perez, Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, or Cole Hamels they each pitched poorly in this round. Eovaldi has to pitch with the same focus and intensity that he had against Tampa when he led Texas to win that series. Eovaldi needs to be able to maintain his velocity and have the Orioles swinging and missing at that splitter. The bullpen has had a heavy workload in these first two games. Eovaldi needs to pitch at least into the sixth or seventh inning. If he can do that and limit the Orioles' production Texas should be in good shape.
The offense also needs to put runs on the board early. The Orioles have belief coming into Texas that they can win both and go back home tied. They won the series back in April with the only Texas win being started by Jacob deGrom. If Texas can put multiple runs on the board early and put the Orioles in a hole then we will see if they still can maintain that belief. I think if Texas can jump up early and Eovaldi is pitching well we could see a repeat of what happened in game two.
Finally, this team needs to embrace the moment and not feel the pressure. The Texas Rangers may not be a cursed franchise like the Red Sox once were or the Cubs were, but the fans feel it in a similar fashion. These fans remember the ups and downs this franchise has experienced since they moved to Arlington. They remember Dean Palmers' error in game two of the 1996 ALDS. They remember Bernie Williams stealing runs with tremendous defensive plays in the outfield in the 1990s. They remember 2011 and what happened in game 6. They remember how the 2015 ALDS fell apart in game five. If Texas loses in game three that excitement that fans are feeling now will quickly turn to dread as fans wonder if it is going to happen again.
The great thing about the makeup of this team is that only two players have connections to any of those previous teams. Players like Seager, Semien, Eovaldi, Nathaniel Lowe, Jonah Heim, and Josh Jung have no connection to those teams in the past. So what happened back then has no effect on what will happen in the remainder of this series. Texas has the momentum, a manager who knows how to motivate his squad, and veteran players who will not shrink in the big moments as we have already seen this postseason.
The only thing Texas needs to do is the phrase the former owner of the Raiders made famous,
"Just win baby"- Al Davis
If they can do that then they will be popping champagne and celebrating for the third time in less than two weeks. Fans will leave in jubilation as they await the start of the ALCS.