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Better Know A Rival: Texas Rangers

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Here's the piece on the Angels, and here's the piece on the A's. Let's wrap this up now, because we've all got shit to do.

Starting Lineup

C Yorvit Torrealba
1B Mitch Moreland
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Josh Hamilton
CF Julio Borbon
RF Nelson Cruz
DH Michael Young

OFFENSE

Note that, beyond those starting nine, the team will also give regular at bats to Mike Napoli and David Murphy, and Chris Davis is hanging around in case you still believe in his potential. So it's safe to say the Rangers are in a pretty good position.

The tricky thing with the Rangers is separating their results from their ballpark, which we all know to be among the most hitter-friendly in the league. But while the Rangers' offensive numbers may be inflated, there's no denying that Hamilton, Cruz, Beltre and...Kinsler? Napoli? would be a potent core for anyone. This isn't going to be the best lineup in baseball, but it's got both star quality and depth, which no other lineup in the division can claim.

Their weakness might be durability. Hamilton has had trouble staying healthy. Cruz has had trouble staying healthy. One of these days Beltre is going to dive too hard for a grounder and kill himself. If and when any of those guys misses time, the offense will hurt, because they're irreplaceable. But this looks like a very good unit, and it'll still be a very good unit even if Elvis Andrus has another homerless season. They'll score a lot of runs.

DEFENSE

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the Rangers' outfield. The numbers say Cruz is better than the eyes would suggest. Hamilton has gone up and down. There have been recent whispers that Borbon's had a hard time of it in the middle. But one thing about the Rangers' defense is clear - groundballs aren't going to get through to left field. Playing Andrus and Beltre side-by-side is going to spoil those fans for whenever one of those two has to be out of the lineup, and the upgrade from Young at third last season to Beltre this time around is going to be absolutely staggering. And visibly, conspicuously staggering, too. There will be no mistaking Beltre's impossible superiority.

I'd expect the Rangers' gloves to be solidly above-average.

Pitching Staff

Rotation

SP C.J. Wilson
SP Colby Lewis
SP Tommy Hunter
SP Matt Harrison
SP Derek Holland

Bullpen

RP Neftali Feliz
RP Alexi Ogando
RP Darren O'Day
RP Darren Oliver
RP Arthur Rhodes

STARTING ROTATION

This has recently been the subject of much discussion, as the team opted to leave Neftali Feliz in the bullpen instead of continuing to have him stretch out. But whether or not you agree with their decision, it's apparent that they aren't exactly desperate for starters.

While so many people are focusing on how the Rangers lost Cliff Lee and therefore don't have a classic ace anymore, one notes that Lewis was very good last season, and Wilson only a little bit worse. It drops off from there, as Hunter never strikes anybody out ever, Harrison sucks, and Holland can't stop giving up home runs, but Hunter does pound the zone and Holland has the right pitches, so it isn't hopeless.

Additionally, the team will be looking for help from Brandon Webb and Scott Feldman, the first of whom is coming back from major shoulder surgery, and the second of whom is coming back from major knee surgery. A healthy Feldman is not too terribly unlike a healthy Hunter, and a healthy Webb would be dynamite. Neither will be ready at the start of the year and no one really knows what to expect from Webb at all, but these are two potential midseason reinforcements.

The Rangers don't have an intimidating rotation, and they won't unless Holland has a breakthrough or Webb makes a full recovery, but at the same time this isn't a liability. It's a group that could help win a division.

BULLPEN

Obviously the return of Feliz is good news for this section, because he's the shutdown stabilizer in an otherwise uncertain group. Ogando is similar to Feliz in a lot of ways, but he's also worse, and he wouldn't have been as good of a closer. O'Day is murder on righties but he can be exposed against lefties, as you'd expect for someone with his arm angle. I'll say this - Oliver and Rhodes are better than you think they are. Last year, Rhodes walked one lefty, and struck out 26. Over the past three years, Oliver's K/BB against lefties is 105/13. And they can each hold their own against righties.

This should be a solidly above-average bullpen, and beyond these five, Mark Lowe is hanging around and forever on the verge of a breakthrough, which would only help even further. That Rhodes and Oliver are a combined 81 years old allows for a bit of worry, but I don't foresee a steep drop-off. They should be just fine.

OVERALL

The Rangers are the AL West favorites, and for good reason - they're the best team of the four, and they look like the best team by a fairly wide margin. They are not so much better than the A's or the Angels that this'll be a cakewalk, but they're a team with few holes, and God help the rest of us if Brandon Webb starts throwing like Brandon Webb.

Injuries and injury-related ineffectiveness look to be the factors that could pull Texas back to the pack. They don't know about Webb. They don't know how Wilson will respond to a jump of 130 innings. They don't know if Hamilton, Cruz or Beltre (or others) will be able to avoid extended stints on the DL. A banged-up Rangers team is a catchable Rangers team. As of this moment, though, they're the strong candidate to represent the division in the playoffs, and I'd consider it a real surprise were they to come up short.