Texas Rangers Preview

The Texas Rangers saw a three-year string of postseason appearances of come to an end in the 2013 MLB season, although the Rangers still made a one-game tie-breaker playoff for the final American League wild-card spot. The organization has been busy this offseason to make certain this year’s October appearance gets them more than one quasi-playoff game. TheSportsNotebook puts forth its Notebook Nine, our focal points on the Rangers for 2014…

*There have been some high-profile moves and players returning from injury, but the smart money sees it as sound and fury adding up to nothing. The Over/Under on the win totals is 87. And the betting odds to win the American League pennant have Texas at 10-1, which puts them tied for sixth in the American League—narrowly outside the playoff picture. The Rangers are seen a par with the Los Angeles Angels in the eyes of bettors.

*Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are the notable acquisitions, at first base and left field. Fielder was acquired by a trade for second baseman Ian Kinsler, while Choo came via the free agent market. Each comes in different terms—Choo is off the best year of his career in Cincinnati, with a stat line of .423 on-base percentage/.465 slugging percentage. Fielder had the worst year of his career, at .362/.457 for Detroit (though admittedly that’s still pretty good), and he his two playoff performances for the Tigers were horrible in all phases of the game.

*One thing Fielder has done is provide security, and he’s been the man who hit behind the league MVP for three straight years—Ryan Braun in Milwaukee in 2011 and Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013. To keep it going, Elvis Andrus will need to be the MVP this time around. Texas will settle for Andrus getting his on-base percentage lifted at least back to the .340s where he had been from 2010-12, and ideally higher.

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*Mitch Moreland hit 23 home runs last year, but every other facet of the DH’s game slipped. Alex Rios saw his slugging percentage tail off, and the Rangers have to hope Rios’ even-numbered year trend holds—the rightfielder drove the ball well in 2010 and 2012. And young second baseman Jurickson Profar, who forced Kinsler out the door, has to show he can hit.

*One man we know can hit is 34-year-old third baseman Adrian Beltre. His three years in Texas have produced 98 home runs and 299 RBIs, with high OBPs and slugging percentages. Texas just has to keep their fingers crossed and hope age doesn’t catch up to Beltre, and that the rest of the cast starts hitting to help him out.

*The starting pitching has been riddled with injuries and if this team played in New York, they would have had the national media running a sympathy crusade. Matt Harrison missed all of last season and Colby Lewis missed the last season and a half. Both are back this year, though Harrison is dealing with some back issues and Lewis is now 34-years-old. If either one falters, Texas has 25-year-old Nick Tepesch who showed some flashes a year ago, and has taken a flyer on Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders, hoping either one can reverse a two-year regression pattern.

*Yu Darvish remains the anchor and the resident Cy Young candidate, a true #1 starter. Darvish made 32 starts a year ago, posted a 2.83 ERA in a good hitters’ park and won 13 games. If the offense helps him out more, Darvish can certainly get to 18-20 wins with those numbers and win the Cy Young. The Rangers also have up-and-comer Martin Perez, the 22-year-old who made 20 starts and delivered a 3.62 ERA. Alexi Ogando also missed time on the disabled list, but was good when health, a 3.11 ERA in 18 starts. This team has starting pitching to spare.

*Texas let Joe Nathan leave for Detroit and the bullpen needs a closer. That brings us to the return of yet another injured pitcher. Neftali Feliz missed all of last year. The Rangers have given up on two years of trying to convert Feliz into a starter, after he had been the closer on the back-to-back American League champions of 2010-11. It’s about time.

*Manager Ron Washington did an underrated job handling his bullpen and staff in general last year through all the injuries, and he’s got a nice cast in setup. There are good young arms in Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, with reliable vets in Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor.

I have a good feeling about this year’s Texas team. Between the returning starting pitchers and the additions of Fielder and Choo, I think they should make a significant jump. The team won 91 games last year and if I want to take the Over, I only need them to get to 88 this time around, with those improvements. That’s the direction I’m going.