And that is where the Rangers' postseason hopes lie, in their star power. If they are going to advance, Lee and Hamilton need to perform at superstar levels. They are just not quite as deep as the other American League playoff clubs, but they do have two of baseball's biggest stars, and both players are capable of carrying them.
Hamilton has quickly proven that he is healthy, and Lee has turned things around since his August slump. While the Rangers' depth in the pitching department has improved dramatically, they need Lee to win multiple games in a series and Hamilton to go on a tear at some point to advance.
Although it helps, depth does not always win out. Sometimes it can be star players simply playing at a different level that can put a team over the top. While their roster was clearly stronger last season, you could make the case that the Yankees won the World Series mostly because of CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez, as much of the rest of their lineup struggled. It could be a similar story for the Rangers this year, and they clearly have other pieces to complement these two stars as well. Some things have to fall into place, but the pieces are absolutely there.
NLDS Scouting Reports: Braves | Giants | Phillies | Reds
Matchup To Watch
The Rangers have something going for them that many teams do not. They have a track record of success against some very advanced pitching this season. They have put some dents in Mariano Rivera in particular. You have to like the type of confidence that can give a team. If the Rangers are down late in a postseason game, it isn't going to matter too much who they're facing. They're a confident bunch and know they can and have beaten the best. They will have their work cut out for them, though, when they face a tough 1-2 punch at the back of the Rays' 'pen in Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano.
C.J. Wilson: A guy with plus stuff, but definite command issues at times, Wilson's performance in the first round is a wild card for the Rangers. He's a pitcher capable of following Cliff Lee with a similarly dominant performance, but whether he can stay consistent enough with his control in a playoff setting remains to be seen.
Scouting Perspective: At some point, command is going to jump up and bite Wilson in October. In the postseason, when things are magnified, those walks could spell trouble. His low-90s fastball, good slider, and changeup are more than enough to be effective, but teams like the Yankees and Rays are going to make him throw a lot of pitches. If he's able to go beyond six innings in these games, Texas will have to be thrilled.
Neftali Feliz: There's a certain level of risk going into postseason play with a closer as young and as inexperienced as Neftali Feliz. But the fact is he had an outstanding rookie season and is a huge reason for the Rangers' success. He has the type of explosive stuff that wins out in postseason baseball, but also has just enough command issues to often work himself into trouble.
Scouting Perspective: As far as playoff-bound closers are concerned, you could make the argument that he has the best stuff of any of them. If he's undaunted by the postseason landscape, you have to expect him to continue to be solid at the end of the game for Texas. He is the owner of two plus pitches in his power 95-99 mph fastball and his downer curveball. If he can continue to locate and stay poised, the playoffs should be no issue for him.
Josh Hamilton: The way the Rangers are built, they need their superstars to play at that level in order to advance. We've seen that Hamilton indeed has a flair for the dramatic in the past, and if he can play at that high of a level in the playoffs he has the type of talent to carry Texas on his back.
Scouting Perspective: Guys who hit above .350 don't typically have too many holes, so exploiting a particular Hamilton weakness isn't really an option. To get him out consistently, he has to be exposed to a variation of speeds and eye levels. If he can get any read on location, he keeps the bat head through the zone long enough and his hands back enough to react and drive the ball even when he's fooled. There's not a pitcher in postseason play that can overmatch him with raw stuff. The patterns just have to continue to change.
(Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.)