ST. PETERSBURG — Rangers 3B Michael Young, the team's longest-tenured player, called this group "the most resilient team I've ever been a part of."
Young thinks that's a big reason Texas is making its first playoff appearance since 1999. And though the Rangers have been battling injuries throughout the second half, they're getting as close to full strength as they've been in a while as they head into Wednesday's Game 1 of the ALDS.
"I think we've got a full head of steam right now," said Young, a six-time All-Star and Ranger since 2000. "I don't how many times we've had our completely healthy lineup out there in the second half — it's probably less than 10 (games). Now we've got it. So we're excited about it."
MVP candidate OF Josh Hamilton (ribs) has returned, though he's still battling soreness. OF David Murphy (strained left groin) said he feels good hitting in the cage but won't know how ready he is until he runs full speed today.
The Rangers were missing Young, 2B Ian Kinsler and OF Nelson Cruz when the Rays swept them in a three-game mid-August series. Manager Ron Washington lauded other players for stepping up, and Young tipped his cap to the pitching staff for helping them earn the AL West title.
"Pitching is the reason we're here," Young said. "We know we have an extremely deep lineup; it's something we know we have, other teams know we have. But pitching. … That's the reason we're here right now and the reason why we expect to have success this month."
FAMILIAR FACE: Rangers 1B Jorge Cantu said it was fitting that his first career playoff game Wednesday will be where he started his career. He spent 2004-07 with the Rays.
And Washington indicated that Cantu, along with fellow right-handed hitter OF Jeff Francoeur, will start against Tampa Bay LHP David Price. Cantu, acquired in July from the Marlins, is hitting .235 in 30 games with the Rangers.
"It's very surreal," Cantu said of facing the Rays in the ALDS. "But I couldn't be in a better spot right now. I always feel there's no grudges, no anything against those guys.
"They were great teammates, a great organization. But once I cross those white lines, it's a battle."
KEEPING TRACK: Though the Rays led the majors in steals for the third consecutive year, Washington didn't seem too concerned with controlling the running game.
"We played the Rays what, seven times this year? I don't think they ran wild on us," Washington said. "We'll do what we have to do to do that, not only do catchers have a part in that, but our pitching staff has a part in that also."
The Rays stole eight bases (in nine attempts) in six games against Texas this season.
The Rangers ranked 12th of 14 AL teams in throwing out 23 percent of attempted basestealers (Tampa Bay wasn't much better, at 25 percent).
WITH HONORS: Closer Neftali Feliz was voted September's AL rookie of the month. Feliz, 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA over 11 appearances, converted each of his six save opportunities while striking out 12 batters in 111/3 innings.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org