The Texas Rangers have one of the most talented rosters in baseball. They have All-Stars, MVPs and a Rookie of the Year.
This club is very capable of winning the division and making the playoffs. But, they still have areas they must improve and things they need to show other teams in order to be viewed as favorites to make it back to the World Series.
Here are eight things that a lot of people will be watching for.
This is one of the more popular topics regarding the Rangers’ quest for a third straight AL Pennant. Losing to the Giants in 2010 was tough, but the 2011 Fall Classic against St. Louis brought the heartbreak to another level.
Everybody is wondering whether Texas can recover from this. What type of hangover effect will the loss have? Maybe the Rangers underachieve all year and miss the playoffs completely. Perhaps they will get off to a slow start that they never recover from.
The best way for Texas to prove the hangover theory does not apply to them is by winning, especially early. Their division looks to be much more competitive this year, so this strategy will serve them well.
This will apply mostly to 25-year-old Yu Darvish and 23-year-old Neftali Feliz. Young as they might be, Texas is still relying on these two to give them solid outings and keep them in ballgames. They have zero combined starts in the MLB, which is concerning for a team defending divisional and American League championships.
Darvish and Feliz’s talent are reasons not to be concerned.
The money the Rangers spent on Darvish is well documented. It’s safe to say they don’t make that investment unless they are confident in the player they are getting. Also, Feliz was one of the team’s top prospects before becoming an All-Star closer.
Struggles are part of the growing process for young pitchers. It just so happens they are on a team that can’t afford too much flexibility. The Rangers don’t exactly need a Cy Young type performance, but they need production—one way or the other.
American League pitchers have to be shaking their heads. The AL was already pretty set on sluggers with Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and Jose Bautista to name a few. This year, two of the best hitters in the National League decided to swap leagues and join in on the fun: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
This will present a big challenge to the Rangers’ rotation, especially since their home park can be a hitter’s paradise. They don’t have to completely shut these hitters down.
It’s all about keeping it close for the offense and the bullpen.
Texas has a good staff, make no mistake. Three of the five starters were part of the group who finished fifth in the American League in ERA last year. They also have an All-Star (Alexi Ogando) and former 17-game winner (Scott Feldman) in the bullpen who can make possible spot starts.
One last slide regarding the rotation. This will focus on lefty Derek Holland.
Holland is no longer the young guy who pitches at the back-end of the rotation where his only job is to get better. This is his fourth year in the big leagues and he is now the No. 2 starter. The Rangers need him to step up and win games while new young players pitch behind him and improve.
He is certainly capable of being the pitcher that Texas needs him to be. Everyone remembers his performance in the World Series. He also had four shutouts last year.
Once again, it’s not necessarily about being a Cy Young guy. For now, it’s about Holland being reliable. This season will be a big test for him.
Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Adrian Beltre all spent their fair share of time on the disabled list last season. Hamilton and Cruz in particular have had a difficult time staying healthy the last couple years. These three players represent the meat of the Rangers’ lineup (third, fourth and sixth).
Texas is deep enough offensively that they can still score runs should one of these guys go down. However, this is still a scenario they should hope to avoid. With the rotations they will face, particularly in Los Angeles, Texas will need its best lineup available as often as possible.
When he was healthy, Joe Nathan was one of the best and most reliable closers in baseball. Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of 2010. He returned in 2011 and had a strong second half to that season.
The Rangers signed Nathan hoping he can regain his elite form. Should this occur, he gives Texas a strong, veteran closer to add to their already stacked bullpen. He got off to a great start on opening day against Chicago, but gave up the eventual game-winning home run the very next night.
It’s very early, but if Nathan struggles to close out games it could be bad news for Texas.
Playing deep into October every season isn’t easy. That’s why more teams don’t do it very often. A big reason for this might be the mental and physical wear and tear that playing an extra month can have.
It will be interesting to see how the Rangers’ respond to the grind of the season after their last two playoff runs. Good thing for Texas is that they have good depth in their lineup and rotation.
This theory may end up having little or no effect, but it is still something they have will to prove to naysayers around the league.
I can’t really talk about the World Series without addressing one of the Rangers’ biggest competitors, a team that just so happens to be in the same division.
This team is, of course, the Lost Angeles Angels.
The Angels have a terrific rotation. They also have a bolstered lineup with Albert Pujols and a healthy Kendrys Morales. Simply put, Texas and Los Angeles match up very good on paper. Only time will tell just how well they match up on the field.
A big thing the Rangers’ will have to prove is that the Angels’ additions have not yet been enough to close the gap. This will not be proven until late in the season—something a lot of people have to be looking forward to.