3 under-the-radar Rangers who can impact the ALCS

October 14th, 2023

HOUSTON -- The whole thing doesn’t work without the other guys.

Through the Rangers’ postseason run, the spotlight has understandably fallen on their prized 2022 free-agent signings or on the exciting rookies in their lineup. But Texas’ success -- in October and in the regular season -- has also run through a trio of unheralded players in Mitch Garver, Jonah Heim and Nathaniel Lowe.

As the club prepares for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros on Sunday, these under-the-radar contributors may prove to be true difference-makers.

“I [know] how cliché it is, the whole ‘team effort’ thing, but that’s really what it’s been,” manager Bruce Bochy said on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. “ … It’s been different on a daily basis what part of the order has done a lot to produce runs for us. Those guys are key for us.

“Sure, you’ll hear about the Seagers and Marcus and those guys, but really, it’s been everybody. And that’s what’s made it work for us.”

There’s good reason for hearing about Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, the All-Star middle-infield pair whose signings marked the start of a new era of contention for the Rangers. Add in youngsters like Josh Jung and Evan Carter and you’ve got one of the most fun lineups in Major League Baseball.

Turning fun into winning requires a bit more strategy, though, and that’s where GM Chris Young and his front office went to work.

Garver arrived in Texas around the same time as Semien and Seager, traded from the Twins in March 2022. Heim came in the year prior through a trade with the A’s, while Lowe played parts of two seasons with the Rays before being acquired by the Rangers in December 2021.

Those aren’t the flashiest names, but they’ve been vital in making a potent lineup click.

“We’re getting production from everybody,” said Bochy, “[including] the guys under the radar that you don’t hear much about.”

It’s been pretty hard to ignore them, though.

Garver has been a prime example of that lately, driving in seven runs -- including a grand slam -- over the past two games while hitting in the No. 3 spot, behind Seager.

A former Silver Slugger and a seven-year Major League veteran, Garver has historically been a tough out for left-handed pitchers. His placement in the lineup makes it more difficult for opposing teams to bring in a lefty to face Seager, and the shortstop’s high on-base percentage has paired nicely with Garver’s ability to hit with runners on base.

Case in point: His grand slam in the Rangers’ 11-8 win over the Orioles in Game 2 of the AL Division Series in Baltimore.

“I want to say this is the best I’ve felt [at the plate],” Garver said. “ … I think the more you play in your career, the more you become in tune with the hitter that you are, and you’re able to come into your own and feel more comfortable with the day-to-day process.”

That’s something that a guy like Heim, Garver’s fellow catcher, is learning as well. The AL’s starting catcher at the 2023 All-Star Game, Heim was slow to return to form after a stint on the IL with a left wrist tendon strain in late July. The power has yet to show up in October, but the switch-hitting Heim has recorded a hit in each of his five postseason games.

The other side of the ball is where he’s really shined, though.

“He's awesome,” said Game 1 starter Jordan Montgomery. “I mean, to have a catcher that plays every day like he does, you really grow comfortable throwing to him. He has an idea of what you want to throw, how you like to work and how fast you like to work. He's just a really talented player.

“He throws guys out at second all the time. He's got a really good pop time, strong arm and he’s really good defensively behind the plate. All around, a really good catcher.”

That much was evident in Game 1 of the ALCS, when Heim nabbed Gunnar Henderson trying to steal second base in the ninth inning, helping seal a narrow 3-2 win that set the tone for the rest of the series.

Behind Heim in the lineup is Lowe, who hit his first postseason homer on Tuesday. A Silver Slugger in 2022, the left-handed-hitting Lowe hasn’t seen the same power at the plate this season, but he could very well become an X-factor in his own right against a righty-heavy Houston pitching staff.