Texas Rangers: Are the Rangers Good Enough to Win a More Competitive AL West?
The AL West got a lot more interesting this past offseason. The Texas Rangers have won the division two years running, but the Los Angeles Angels have spared no expense in their effort to recapture the crown.
The Halos shelled out over $300 million to sign superstar first baseman Albert Pujols and former Ranger C.J. Wilson. The Oakland Athletics are in rebuilding mode once again after trading Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey and Gio Gonzalez The Mariners have some good young players, but have lost almost 200 games combined the last two seasons. It’s a safe bet that these two teams are a couple years away from being relevant in the division.
That leaves the Rangers and Angels to battle it out for the AL West championship.
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The Angels will have one of the best rotations in baseball while the Rangers’ rotation will have a lot to prove. Should the Rangers not sign Roy Oswalt, Colby Lewis slides into the top spot following C.J. Wilson’s departure. Lewis is prone to the long ball but still has been solid the last couple of years and is clutch come playoff time.
The other starters are young but filled with potential. Derek Holland won 16 games last year with an ERA under four. If he can find consistency, he has the stuff and experience to be the ace of the staff. Matt Harrison is another young pitcher who will try to build off a promising 2011 season (14 wins and 3.39 ERA).
The two pitchers to watch in 2012 will be Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish. Feliz is an All-Star closer moving to the rotation for the first time this season. Darvish is the Rangers’ offseason prize who they believe has all the tools to be a top of the line starter in the league. These two have plenty of potential, the question will be whether they can adjust to the mental and physical requirements of pitching in a major league rotation.
The Angels definitely have the edge, but the Rangers' group should be enough to keep them in games. If big problems come up, Texas still has one of the deepest farm systems in baseball to use as trade bait.
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The Rangers’ bullpen is a strength and an edge they will have over the rest of the division. The key will be not to overwork them. Alexi Ogando (assuming he is moved back to the bullpen), Mike Adams and Joe Nathan are proven arms who will make the final three innings tough for opposing teams. Nathan was a key signing who gives Texas a veteran presence with playoff experience.
The biggest question is the Rangers still need a left-handed specialist to replace Darren Oliver. The player to watch for the Angels will be Jordan Walden, their young closer who had 32 saves but also led the league with 10 blown saves. They didn’t have a great bullpen last season but the addition of LaTroy Hawkins should help. Still, all eyes will be on Walden to improve from a year ago and get the final three outs.
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Offense will again be the Rangers' biggest strength this season. Albert Pujols will no doubt make the Angels offense better, but his addition is not enough to totally close the gap with Texas offensively. Pujols does not have the type of hitters around him as protection to force pitchers to throw to him (Abreu, Hunter and Wells do not strike fear into pitchers the way they used to). The production they will get from Kendrys Morales is a question mark as he tries to return from a big injury.
The Rangers scored 188 more runs than the LA last year, not to mention they finished second in the league in home runs and first in batting average. They accomplished this despite lengthy stays on the disabled list by Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre. Both teams are skilled at manufacturing runs thanks to bunting and base running, but the Rangers' big bats give them the edge. If anything, the Angels should have thought about using the money they spent on Wilson to sign another hitter and add more offense.
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Both teams are solid defensively. For Texas, the errors were a little high last season but that is not due to lack of talent. They have great arms in the outfield and were one of the top teams in the league last season in turning double plays.
The Angels also have an excellent outfield anchored by Peter Bourjos in center field. For LA, one of the big questions will be where to put Mark Trumbo, who was their first baseman last year. He wasn’t great defensively there so a potential move to third will be interesting to see.
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Texas is still the team to beat in the AL West this season. The Angels will be tough, but if last season taught us anything it is that championship trophies aren‘t handed out during the offseason. This time last year all the “experts” had Boston and Philadelphia as locks for the World Series after spending big bucks on new players. Boston didn’t even make the playoffs and Philadelphia got beat in the first round.
The Rangers' hitting and bullpen should be good enough to keep substantial pressure off the rotation. LA will not have the same luxury. Their terrific rotation will be for nothing if the offense can’t score runs or the bullpen blows the lead late in the game. Both teams have a lot to look forward to this season. The answers to their questions will come on the field where there looks to be an exciting chase for the division.