Better Know A Rival: Texas Rangers

Mark Hamburger

The last three - and first three - other baseball teams I've talked about have been the Oakland Athletics, the Hanshin Tigers, and the Yomiuri Giants. Now we're coming back to America, and we're coming back to the middle of America. We're coming back to a place that'd tell you it's in America before it'd tell you its name. We're coming back to Texas. The A's preview kicked off the AL West preview series, but it wasn't a series yet - that was just one preview. Now we have a second preview, which makes this a series, or a line segment.

Last season, the Texas Rangers went to the World Series and won except for the fact that they lost. The season before that, the Texas Rangers went to the World Series and came a little less devastatingly close to winning. The season before that, the Texas Rangers won 87 games, and though they missed the playoffs, they looked like they'd be a terror, soon. Which they were, and are.

The 2012 Rangers are not a perfect baseball team. There's no such thing as a perfect baseball team. The 2012 Rangers aren't even the 2001 Mariners, or the 1994 Mariners I took to a title in SEGA's inaugural World Series Baseball. The 2012 Rangers have their flaws and their question marks. It's just that they have fewer and less critical flaws and question marks than most other teams do. The Rangers went 96-66 a year ago and basically replaced one really good pitcher with another really good pitcher. Remember when we all thought the Cleveland Indians would become a perennial powerhouse? The Texas Rangers are that team. I guess let's preview them now even though I've spoiled the ending.

Starting Lineup

C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
LF David Murphy
CF Josh Hamilton
RF Nelson Cruz
DH Michael Young

OFFENSE

-ish. They'll play a lot of Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate, and a lot of Napoli at first and DH. The outfield is presently unsettled, as Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon are in the mix for center. So the above is just one arrangement. But those are the nine guys I think the Rangers are counting on batting the most.

And they're all fine to good, each of them. I don't know who's the worst, but if it's Andrus, he's a shortstop and he adds baserunning value, and if it's Moreland, he had offseason surgery to fix his wrist. (His wrist needed a fixing.) It could be Murphy, but Murphy has a 104 career OPS+ so it's probably not him.

The stars are...well you know who the stars are, and who the most productive players are. As has been the case for some time, the Rangers' biggest offensive question mark might be health. Hamilton's always getting himself in trouble, and Cruz is always getting himself in trouble, and while Beltre has borderline unfathomable pain tolerance, he played in 124 games last year, and 111 games two years before that. He's simultaneously durable and not durable, like...obsidian? Obsidian is super hard but shatters if you throw it at other obsidian. Then all the little pieces are super hard too. I don't know where this is going but now I'm thinking about obsidian and obsidian is sooooo aweeesommmeeee

The Rangers had a very good offense last season and they're returning almost all of the players. Young and Napoli won't do what they did again so there's some regression to account for, but this'll be a hard lineup to face, made all the harder at home. Just how hard will depend on health. It's the same for every team, but the Rangers in particular.

DEFENSE

I don't know quite what to make of Josh Hamilton as a center fielder. I suspect he is not that good at it. I also suspect he is not terrible at it. Cruz doesn't have the speed that he used to, as the World Series made clear, so no matter the arrangement, the Rangers' outfield won't be known for its range.

But the infield is superb, as I doubt I need to tell you. Beltre hasn't been a Mariner since 2009 but he still looks the same, only with a better bat now. I just rolled a baseball on the floor behind me and Andrus picked it up and returned it before I could even hear him knock. Kinsler's good too I think and I don't give a shit about Moreland. He's probably neither good nor bad. He can't bring this infield down.

The Rangers' defense will be a bit of a strength. A bit of a strength on a team with practically nothing but strengths. So I guess it will not be a strength, relatively? That does make me feel better.

Pitching Staff

Rotation

SP Colby Lewis
SP Yu Darvish
SP Derek Holland
SP Matt Harrison
SP Neftali Feliz

Bullpen

RP Joe Nathan
RP Mike Adams
RP Alexi Ogando
RP Scott Feldman
RP Koji Uehara

STARTING ROTATION

C.J. Wilson was very, very good - better than I think we realized, and better than I'm given to understand the Texas media has given him credit for. Wilson was a hell of a loss for the Rangers, the way that Cliff Lee was a hell of a loss for the Rangers the year before. But the Rangers didn't just sit around and try to patch things internally. Instead they signed a guy who a year from now could conceivably be thought of as the best starting pitcher in the world.

Darvish probably won't be thought of as the best starting pitcher in the world, but it's not an impossible thing to imagine. The Rangers lost the best starter on the free-agent market, but they added maybe the best starter available. There's little reason to think that Darvish won't be outstanding. Everything works. He could be better, but everyone could be better, and he already seems better than most.

And of course, the Rangers won't be leaning on Darvish. He's not even starting on opening day. Lewis is good, and Holland is good, and Harrison is good, and I don't know about Feliz but it's not like the Rangers are screwed if Feliz's starting trial doesn't work out. They have Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando as depth if need be, and they're perfectly serviceable. Remember how Ogando made the All-Star team?

The Rangers probably don't have the best starting rotation in the division, but that's only because the Angels' starting rotation is crazy. The Rangers are set, and a lot would have to go wrong for this to be a concern. And even if things do go wrong, oh, hey there, Roy Oswalt, thank you for your interest. Why yes, we do have an opening.

BULLPEN

Neftali Feliz isn't in there anymore, but Ogando is, so that's a fine trade-off. One wonders about Joe Nathan, since he's old and kind of coming off surgery. But after a May/June DL stint with the Twins, he had 28 strikeouts and five walks over his final 31 appearances. Nathan looks like he should be okay, and even if he isn't, there's Ogando and Mike Adams who by the way is still awesome. I like Uehara and I love his numbers, but there are questions about how comfortable he is in Texas so he's not exactly a sure thing. This won't be a perfect bullpen, but it should be a good-enough bullpen unless Nathan hits an unforeseen bump in the road and Adams gives up homers.

OVERALL

You look at the Rangers and you understand what it takes to build a championship contender. You understand that the Mariners have some pieces in place, but not enough of them. The Rangers are a model franchise from top to bottom except for Michael Young being a huge douche, and they've been good for a while, and should be good for a while. They're championship contenders, again. Hopefully they don't win one because right now what we have to console ourselves with is the fact that they came so close before ultimately blowing it. But if they do win one, they will have deserved it. I used to say that the Texas Rangers were coming. The Texas Rangers have arrived, and I think they're going to stay a while. They brought a moving truck.

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