The Texas Rangers seemingly had everything going their way in 2012 until the last few weeks of the season. Texas lost nine of its last 13 games, and the Oakland Athletics charged back to take the division title.
To make matters worse, the Rangers then lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the one-game playoff, effectively ending their season.
Gone are the likes of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli. With Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski set to replace two of the three, the Rangers have some areas that seem weak heading into 2013.
Here's a look at how the Rangers are shaping up heading into this season.
2012 Record: 93-69 (second AL West)
Playoffs: Lost in Wild Card Game to Orioles, 5-1
Key Arrivals: C A.J. Pierzynski (FA), 3B Jeff Baker (FA), P Nate Robinson (FA), P Kyle McClellan (FA), 1B Lance Berkman (FA), P Jason Frasor (FA), P Joakim Soria (FA).
Key Departures: OF Josh Hamilton (FA), P Ryan Dempster (FA), P Mike Adams (FA), C/1B Mike Napoli (FA), INF Michael Young (to Philadelphia), P Koji Uehara (FA), Scott Feldman (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
1. Matt Harrison (18-11, 3.29 ERA, 133 Ks, 1.261 WHIP)
2. Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA, 221 Ks, 1.280 WHIP)
3. Derek Holland (12-7, 4.67 ERA, 145 Ks, 1.221 WHIP)
4. Alexi Ogando (2-0, 3.27 ERA, 66 Ks, 1.000 WHIP) *
5. Martin Perez (1-4, 5.45 ERA, 25 Ks, 1.632 WHIP)
6. Colby Lewis (6-6, 3.43 ERA, 93 Ks, 1.076 WHIP)
* Ogando's stats from 2012 are as a reliever
C: A.J. Pierzynski (.278 BA, 27 HR, 77 RBI)
1B: Mitch Moreland (.275 BA, 15 HR, 50 RBI)
2B: Ian Kinsler (.256 BA, 19 HR, 72 RBI)
SS: Elvis Andrus (.286 BA, 3 HR, 62 RBI, 21 SB)
3B: Adrian Beltre (.321 BA, 36 HR, 102 RBI)
LF: David Murphy (.304 BA, 15 HR, 61 RBI)
CF: Craig Gentry (.304 BA, 1 HR, 26 RBI, 13 SB)/Leonys Martin (.174 BA, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 3 SB)
RF: Nelson Cruz (.260 BA, 24 HR, 90 RBI)
DH: Lance Berkman (.259 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI)
Closer: Joe Nathan (R) (3-5, 37 SV, 3 BLSV, 2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 78 Ks)
Joakim Soria (R) (didn't pitch in 2012) *
Jason Frasor (R) (1-1, 13 HLD, 3 BLSV, 4.12 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 53 Ks)
Robbie Ross (L) (6-0, 9 HLD, 2.22 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 47 Ks)
Josh Lindblom (R) (3-5, 1 SV, 3 BLSV, 22 HLD, 3.55 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 70 Ks)
Tanner Scheppers (R) (1-1, 1 SV, 4 HLD, 4.45 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 30 Ks)
Michael Kirkman (L) (1-2, 3.82 ERA, 1.160 WHIP, 38 Ks)
Neftali Feliz (R) (3-1, 3.16 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 37 Ks) **
* Soria is expected to return by late May.
** Feliz is expected to be out until at least the All-Star break after Tommy John surgery.
Analyzing the Starting Pitching
When looking at the starting rotation, there is a lot to be excited about. Harrison is coming off easily the best season of his career, while Darvish showed he could hang with the best MLB had to offer.
The Rangers ranked sixth in baseball in quality starts (86) and held opponents to a fifth-best .256 batting average.
The X-factor in the rotation will be Perez, who is the No. 6 prospect in the minor league system. Perez made six starts at the MLB level last year after going 7-6 with 4.25 ERA and 69 strikeouts in Triple-A.
Harrison and Darvish will be a good one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Harrison has good control and ranked third in the American League in WAR with 6.2. Darvish, meanwhile, is the strikeout guy the Rangers need and showed he could hang with the best MLB had to offer.
Ogando is moving back into the rotation, mainly out of necessity. He thrived in the rotation in 2011 before being moved to the bullpen last year. A 13-win year is not out of the question for him and would go a long way in helping ensure the Rangers are in the hunt at the end of the year.
With the offense downgraded a little from last year, the pitching staff isn't going to get as much run support as it's used to.
The Los Angeles Angels upgraded their lineup with the addition of Hamilton, as did the Seattle Mariners with the addition of Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales. The Houston Astros also enter the AL West, which bodes well for all teams but the Astros.
That said, Texas will be fine when it comes to the starting rotation. It's just all a matter of Harrison, Darvish and Ogando doing what everyone knows they're capable of doing.
Analyzing the Bullpen
The Rangers did a good job at shoring up their bullpen with the addition of Frasor, Lindblom and Soria. Nathan returns as the closer; he had 37 saves a year ago.
While Soria won't be available at the start of the season, he does bring closer-type stuff to the mix. If Nathan struggles, Soria will be given opportunities to close games after the midway point of the season.
Ross, who will also be stretched out to possibly start, surprised many last year. Most thought he wouldn't make the big league roster out of camp last year, but he just kept getting outs. He'll have a tough time earning a spot in the rotation, but he'll be a definite asset in the bullpen.
If the Texas bullpen can survive the first half of the season, things will get better, as Feliz is expected to return following Tommy John surgery. If he can bring the same success to the table that he had in 2011 as the team's closer, the Rangers will have a solid bullpen when the playoffs roll around.
Analyzing the Offense
In 2012, the offense led baseball in runs scored (808), hits (1,526) and RBI (780) and finished in the top five in almost every other offensive category. However, the Rangers are going to have some major changes to their lineup. Gone are 85 home runs, 251 RBI, 245 runs and 409 hits from Young, Napoli and Hamilton.
Enter Pierzynski, Berkman and the platoon of Gentry and Martin. How will these players fare as replacements for the departed trio?
According to MLBDepthCharts.com, Kinsler will lead off, with Andrus set to hit in the No. 2 hole. Berkman, Beltre and Cruz come next in the order and are now the only real power hitters in the middle of the lineup. Berkman will be 37, so it might be hard to expect more than 30 home runs from him again.
Murphy will be the X-factor in the No. 6 hole. If he can't get things going, it will hinder Cruz and Beltre from being able to do their damage.
Rounding out the lineup will be Moreland and the platoon of Gentry and Martin.
Eventually, Jurickson Profar will be in the starting lineup. The only question is at what position and where in the lineup. Will Kinsler move to the outfield to make room for him?
Of course, that move could come quicker if Martin and/or Gentry start to falter at the plate.
Prospect to Watch
The obvious answer here would be Profar. He earned a promotion to the big leagues from Double-A last year, where he hit .281 with 14 home runs and 62 RBI. He also swiped 16 bases.
With Profar being ready for the big leagues, it allowed the Rangers to trade Young to the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest question will be who gets moved to the outfield to make room for the switch-hitting Profar? The next question is when will that be?
Texas fans can only hope Profar has the same kind of impact Bryce Harper and Mike Trout had one year ago for their respective teams. If he can, the Rangers could ride that wave through the second half of the season.
The Rangers will have a chance to re-birth themselves in a way this year.
The new lineup doesn't make up for the power lost to free agency, while the pitching staff still has some question marks as well.
When Ogando was moved to the bullpen last year, it was because there was no space for him in the rotation. This year, the Rangers aren't exactly sure who their No. 5 starter will be.
It's a different year and a different dynamic. Texas is no longer the favorite to win the division. The Angels are the favorite, while the A's bring back most of their roster from last year's division-winning team.
The Rangers will have a lot of work to do to get over the disappointment from last year.
Projected Record: 83-79, third AL West.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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