Rangers, Giants impressed playoff foes

Rangers, Giants impressed playoff foes

SAN FRANCISCO -- Most of the time, the start Tim Hudson gave in Game 3 of the National League Division Series would have led to a Braves win.

The Atlanta right-hander let up just one run in seven innings to San Francisco on Oct. 10, striking out five and allowing four hits. It was a pivotal performance in a pivotal game.

It also wasn't good enough, not that night against those Giants. On the other side was a masterful performance from left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, who went 7 1/3 innings and allowed one run on just two hits. On the other side, too, was a veteran lineup that was able to stage a two-run comeback in the ninth inning and deal the Braves a 3-2 loss. A game later, the Giants won the series.

Now, a little more than two weeks later, the hard-hitting Rangers are the favorites to win the 2010 World Series, not the Giants. Hudson doesn't buy it.

"If the Giants continue to pitch like they have, they certainly have the potential to control that strong lineup," Hudson said. "They were pretty effective against a Phillies lineup that was just as strong [in the National League Championship Series]."

The Giants' ERA this postseason is 2.47, and they're the only club to hold opponents to a sub-.200 average in the playoffs: .199.

"It's true what they say about pitching this time of year: If you pitch and play good defense, you can control the games," Hudson said.

Few know the strengths and weakness of the Giants and Rangers like the teams both clubs moved past to get to the World Series.

To general manager Brian Cashman, the Yankees had their offense to blame for their loss to Texas in the American League Championship Series, and the Rangers their offense to laud.

Texas hit a Major League-best .276 average in the regular season, and outscored the Yankees 38-19 in the six-game ALCS. Series MVP Josh Hamilton, whom New York simply stopped pitching to, was as unstoppable as anyone has been since Carlos Beltran's run for Houston in the 2004 playoffs.

Sure, the Yankees' bullpen ERA was 5.75 in the ALCS, worst of any of the four teams to make the second round, and the Rangers' bullpen ERA 2.25, the best of the four. Still ...

"You need offense, especially because we're playing in the American League, which is radically different from the National League," Cashman said. "You can get away with lesser lineups in the National League. You can't do that in the American League over 162 games. You certainly can't do it in the American League East. You need a tremendous lineup."

Statistically, the Giants' lineup hasn't fared as well. San Francisco has struck out 99 times and homered just six times this postseason. That's 18 strikeouts more than the Rangers and 11 homers fewer.

To Hudson, though, that's not enough for condemnation.

"You know they've gained a lot of confidence over the past couple of weeks," Hudson said. "They're much different than they were earlier this year. That confidence that they've built during the playoffs can go a long way."

Hudson might've alluded to the crux of it. Going into the AL Division Series, the Rays' James Shields pointed to the fact that Tampa Bay had the best record (96-66) in the AL.

"So as far as I'm concerned, we're the team to beat," Shields said. "And I think those other teams in the playoffs know that. So we're going to go out there and play our game and try to win each series."

The Rangers staved off a Rays comeback to win the ALDS in five games. The regular-season record went out the window.

To those on teams that made the playoffs but went home early, their clubs' downfall was an inability to perform on all cylinders. The Giants and Rangers, though, have both played to their potential through the first two rounds.

"They outpitched us, they outhit us, they played great defense," Cashman said of Texas. "The small things we may have done right, they may have had some luck on their side.

"We scored the most runs in Major League Baseball -- I think it was like 895 or something like that -- and you wouldn't have known that in that series. ... If you don't play up to your abilities and somebody else takes all their talent and maximizes it, that's what happens."

Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.