How The West Will Be Won: Texas Rangers

We’re finally here, the source of all Angels fans agony last season, the bane of the teams existence, the Texas Rangers. We all know how everything came together so well for the Rangers last season, perfect team chemistry, no substantial injuries, and veteran players leading the team to the World Series. The question looming over everyone’s head in the offseason: Can they do it again this year? Can they win it all? The only logical answer I can think of is a big fat maybe, we need to take a closer look at the roster of the 2011 Rangers.

angels world series ring 
The Rangers had a magical playoff run for the ages? Oh i’m sorry, I didn’t see it on account of the gleaming silver of this World Series Ring blinding me. Im sure you Rangers fans have had that problem too.

 Offense

The offense of the Texas Rangers is hands down the heart and lifeblood of the team.  The Rangers offense is jam packed with an absolutely scary amount of power, which would be enough to terrify any lesser pitcher off the mound. In last years World Series, the Rangers had to learn the hard way that pitching wins championships, and exactly how did they build up on thier pitching this past offseason? They lost Cliff Lee? Well as bad as that seems it isn’t really their fault, he went where he wanted to play for less money than the Rangers offered him. Shame that team wasn’t the Rangers. They signed Arthur Rhodes and Brandon Webb? Well Webb hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009 and Rhodes has been pitching since 1991, I wasn’t even alive back then! It seems like the Rangers failed hard to improve on their starting rotation, is thier offense really enough to keep them alive untill October?

Before we see how the Rangers improved, we must take a look at what they lost. Gone is the bat and heart of Big Daddy Vladdy, a key signing for the Rangers last season. It is undisputed that he was the piece that sent the Rangers over the top, which isn’t too hard to look at the stats he put up last year: .300/.345/.496, .841 OPS, 29 HR-115 RBI. Aside from Vladdy the Rangers also lost Francoeur, Molina, and Cantu. None of those three we’re really a major part of the lineup, so their loss shouldn’t be too damaging to the Rangers. 

Now, on to the projected lineup for 2011, which should look something like this.

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

Quite a jam at 1B and DH I would say, all created by the signing of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli. Neither of these two moves were smart, at all. Signing Beltre (to keep him from the Angels) caused trouble in the organization, as Michael Young demanded a trade following his diminished role. After pushing Young to the DH role, the Rangers didn’t feel as if they had pained Young enough, so they traded for Mike Napoli from the Blue Jays. If the Rangers are keen on pushing starters to part-time roles, then we can all happily say mission accomplished! Constantly rotating four players between two positions should keep them off balance, which will likely disrupt their performance on the field AND damage the teams overall chemistry. Keeping your players happy put’s runs on the board, and putting runs on the board brings people to the games, which in turn brings money to the organization. Failing to keep their players happy is only going to damage the organization in the near future.

Now, on to the actual offense, starting with Andrus and Kinsler. Last year he hit .265/.342/.301, which not very impressive at first glance, untill you realize the kid is only 21. Andrus’ skills have been improving year after year, and he still has a lot of potential to fulfill. He isn’t much of a terror on the basepaths, sure he’s got speed, but he was thrown out on 15 of his 32 steal attempts, which comes out to 46.9% of the time. Not something you want to see from the leadoff spot, but seeing as how he is so young it isn’t a red flag on his game (at least for now it isn’t). Following Andrus is the well-hated Ian Kinsler, the man who seems to get his rocks off on talking way to much smack (smack that his game unfortunately can back up). Last year Kinsler excelled at finding his way to the basepaths, posting a .382 OBP, which was helped by his strong walk rate. Putting the ball in play has always been the name of the game for Kinsler, you can’t ask for more out of the two-hole.

Josh Hamilton hit .359/.411/.633 last year. All that needs to be said is said in that slash line. I don’t need to elborate on it, do I? Well ok, he’s also a three time All-Star, two time Silver Slugger recipient, and AL MVP last year. ‘Nuff said.

Now, on to the “heart” of the lineup: Beltre, Cruz, and Young. There has been some questioning as to whether or not Beltre performs only in contract years, we aren’t going to get into that, we’ll just say that hitting in Arlington should puff his power numbers up a bit. He played in Boston last year, a well known hitters park, and hit 28 HR’s, the highest since his 48 HR campaign with the Dodgers in 2004. It is possible we are in store for another campaign such as this, but the odds don’t tip too well in Beltre’s favor. It is slightly confusing to see Beltre batting cleanup, seeing as how Hamiltons numbers last year were…”monstrous”, to say the least. Beltre has only put up two seasons of an OPS over .900 in his 13 year campaign, while Hamilton has done it three times in his four years in the majors.

The Rangers are batting Cruz out of the 5-hole, and we should all be scared…right? Wrong. Nelson Cruz has never proved he can be good on a consistent basis, in fact Cruz has only had one truly full season of good work. Cruz has only had 300+ PA in three seasons: 2007-.235/.287/.384, 2009-.260/.332/.524, 2010-.318/.374/.576; the only thing he’s shown he can consitently do is hit for power. Cruz has only shown one above-average season in the majors so far, and at 30 years of age Cruz is going to start peaking very fast. There’s a possibility of another great season for Cruz, but the numbers has shown there is a greater possibility of another “dull” campaign for Nelson cruz.

Now we can finally get to the proverbial thorn in the Rangers offense, the DH-hole. Michael Young’s skill is deteriorating with his age, so it seemed like it would be a decent idea to slot him as the DH. This was a pretty decent idea untill the Rangers pulled a fast one and traded for Mike Napoli from the Blue Jays. Napoli’s shoddy defense is going to push him towards more playing time at DH, but with Michael Young starting there, it doesn’t seem like Napoli will get a substantial amount of AB’s from the DH spot. What about catcher and first you ask? Well, with Moreland and Torrealbe firmly entrenched in those spots, it seems like Napoli is going to be taking AB’s wherever he can get them. Rotating Napoli between the three positions are sure to take a toll on his offensive game, which already isn’t that pretty. Sure he can mash the ball hard, but when he fails to get base hits with runners in scoring position more than 80% of the time, he’s not someone you’re going to want in the box during an intense high pressure situation.

1B is going to be up to the young Mitch Moreland, but can he handle the job. From he he showed last year, yes. His fielding is strong, and his offense showed promise of what is hopefully a high ceiling for this young man. But then again, he flame out like many other have, be it due to injury or lack of mental ability. The kid has only 145 major league AB’s in his career, so mot much can be said at this point without guessing what his future numbers may be like. What we can say is that this kid has big upside, and the Rangers can only hope that he lives up to it.

Now we’re finally down to Torrealba and Borbon, who look to make a very strong 8-9 duo in this lineup. What you want from this part of the lineup is someone who can simply put the ball in play. Of course this can be said for all spots in the lineup, but it is extremely important to keep rallies alive and put pressure on the opposing offense from the bottom of your lineup. Torreabla’s past two seasons in the majors have been great on his offensive numbers, while his career average is nothing to get excited about. If Torrable can keep his offensive game growing, than him and Borbon are going to created a revolving door of eternal pressure put on the opposing teams pitching and defensive staff. Not to forget the fact that the Rangers have two leadoff type players batting 9th and 1st, which is sure to create some havoc on the basepaths.

Pitching

We all saw the Rangers offense take them all the way to the World Series, but will their pitching be strong enough to keep them in World Series longer than their run last year? This past season the starting pitching staff absolutely depended on the guidance of Cliff Lee, and with his departure to the Phillies it looks like the starting rotation wont have a leg to stand on. Sure C.J Wilson put up a great performance last year, yet he only started a total of SIX games prior to the 2010 season, all which came in his rookie season 6 years ago. Even if he can show that he isn’t just a one hit wonder in the rotation and take on the role of “staff ace” the Rangers are still left with a giant question mark hanging over their rotation.

The only logical number 2 starter would be Colby Lewis, the only other Rangers pitcher (sans Webb) who has pitched more than 200 innings in a season, and surprise, he’s only done it once in his whole career! Aside from that he has the second most service time (6 years), yet he hasn’t shown he can be a reliable 2nd starter. His numbers have bounced around from ERAs of 7.30 (127 IP 2003) and 3.72 (201 IP, 2010), which all total to a career ERA of 5.27. Oh, and Lewis missed three years in the majors before picking up the ball once more last year. He’s never been exceptional with the strikeout, and he gives up more than his fair share of hits. Yet another question mark in this shaky rotation.

Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland look to fill out the 3 and 4 spots in the rotation. again, we have more question marks we need to ponder. Neither pitcher has pitched over 140 innings, so longevity and consistency will be the key to making this rotation successful. Last year Hunter pitched to the tune of a 3.73 ERA, while Holland pulled in a 4.08. One thing that needs to be noted is this rotation is going to rely heavily on the bullpen, which was a strong point last season. The thing that pops out about both of these pitchers is their tendancies with the home run ball. Tommy Hunter gave up a total of 21 blasts, which doesn’t look very good when you pitch a low inning total like Hunter. Holland was better with the homer, giving up only 6 home runs, although he pitched only 57 innings. Holland is a HUGE gamble here, he doesnt seem to be able to handle the wear and tear of the starting role. Last year in 10 games started Holland pitched to a 4.08 ERA, 8.5 SO/9, 0.9 HR/9; which looks like it would fill the fourth spot in the rotation well. But when you look at what he did in 21 games started in 2009, things start to look a little less promising; his SO/9 dropped to 7.0, his HR/9 jumped to 1.7, and ERA was an unsightly 6.12. These are the kind of numbers that make you wonder if Holland will be able to handle not only the strain that comes with a full-time starting job, but the pressure that comes with the job. 

Rounding out this rotation is 2006 Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb. Its funny how a young stud like Webb could go from being an ace among young aces to an extremely questionable fifth starter. Webb has always been an innings eater, posting 5 consecutive 200+IP seasons, all while keeping together a career ERA of 3.27. Unfortunately for Webb, an injury sidelined him for the majority of the 2009 and all of the 2010 season. We all know how devestating an injury can be on a young players career and even though Webb has an extremely strong track record his injury may not allow him to come back as the Webb we all saw before the 2009 season. Even if he does make a dramatic rise back to the top, he’s not going to do it this year. As much as I want to see the Rangers fail and fail again, I can only hope that Webb is able to make a comeback and keep his career on the rise.

If you weren’t afraid of the Rangers offense, you’ll definitely be afraid of their bullpen. Among their cavalry of relievers is last years AL ROtY Award winner Neftali Feliz, who is going to close out games for the Rangers next year. This kid can strike out hitters with his blazing fastball without throwing out free passes like many other high speed hurlers. He keeps the ball in the park and the runners off the basepaths. Looking to set up for Feliz is the righty/lefty combo of Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver. These two have no problems keeping the ball in the park and keeping the opposing offense away from home plate. In fact, they do it so consistently that they have kept their ERAs under 3 for the past couple of seasons. The real anomaly here that I must point out is Arthur Rhodes and his previous work in the AL. His numbers in the AL were pretty sporadic, especially during his tenure in the AL West. Rhodes numbers jumepd from ERAs below 3 and 2 to ERA of 5 and up. All in all his tenure in the AL West ended in Oakland, where Rhodes pitched a 5.12 ERA for the 2004 season. Overall Rhodes performance in the NL fared much better than that in the AL. If he can come back to the West with a vengance, carrying over his All-Star performance last year, then he will be a very scary pitcher to face.

The Rangers look like the Bizarro version of the Angels: great offense, weak pitching. If the Angels pitching staff can find a way to keep the Rangers offense in check, they should fare very well. The best strategy the Angels can go into the season against the Rangers with is to hit their young starters as hard and as fast as possible early on. The starting rotation of the Texas Rangers is looking extremely vunerable, so taking advantage of them is key. Hopefully bringing in the bullpen early will put much needed pressure on the team, and eventually if enough pressure is applied the Rangers will crack in glorious fashion. Then again, that is too many ifs and hopefully’s for me to be 100% convinced the Angels will come out of the season on top. The Angels pitching staff needs to be in tip top shape this year to make up for the lack of power or consistency the offense brings. The only for sure thing I can tell you is the Angels-Rangers rivalry is looking to heat up this season, and oh boy will it be fun to watch.

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