Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is providing reasons for fans to be excited about the upcoming 2014 season.
The team will be looking to bounce back from its disappointing 2013 campaign that ended with a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, a loss which kept the Rangers from making the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
Daniels has been busy this offseason and has taken care of some issues that caused disruption last year. The improvements have created excitement and expectations for the club, like taking back the division and making the playoffs.
Here are three reasons why Texas fans should expect a better season in 2014.
The Rangers scored 808 runs in 2012, the most in baseball. Last year they dropped to No. 8 with 730 runs. Adrian Beltre was the only true threat throughout the season, especially after Nelson Cruz was hit with a 50-game suspension for PEDs.
But after a trade that brought in Prince Fielder and the signing of free agent Shin-Soo Choo, Texas has one of the better lineups in baseball.
Choo is one of the best leadoff hitters in the league, finishing fourth in OBP last season (.423). He also had a .285 batting average with 21 homers and 107 runs scored. He did strike out 133 times in 2013, but he also had 112 walks.
Not only did the Rangers find a leadoff hitter, they also got a feared power hitter in Prince Fielder. He batted behind Miguel Cabrera the previous two seasons but should now have Beltre protecting him the lineup. Fielder still hit 25 home runs and drove in 106 runs last season. He and Choo both bring .389 career OBPs to Arlington, an area that Texas struggled with in 2013.
The only questions left to be answered both are derived from the two young guys in the lineup. Jurickson Profar will most likely occupy second base now that Ian Kinsler is playing in Detroit. But now that the former No. 1 prospect has an everyday job, he should be able to find a long-term groove at the plate.
Leonys Martin will be looking to bounce back in 2014 after his first full stint with the Rangers. He hit just .260 last season but was a threat when he reached base, stealing 36 bags. He will most likely occupy the bottom of the lineup, as he did in 2013.
Rangers fans should expect an offense that resembles the lineups that helped this team reach the playoffs three years in a row.
Bullpen Almost the Same
With the exception of Joe Nathan, the Texas bullpen will look the same as it did in 2013.
The relievers for the Rangers were some of the most reliable in all of baseball. They tied the Arizona Diamondbacks with the most bullpen wins (35), had the fourth-best ERA (2.91) and gave up the third-fewest runs (159).
With Nathan gone, Texas will have a new closer at the helm. Luckily, the Rangers have a litter of capable arms. Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz will all be battling for the job, and the last two have closing experience. If Alexi Ogando doesn't occupy the final rotation spot, he can also set up or close.
The bullpen helped the Rangers sustain leads and keep them in ballgames when the offense struggled to put insurance runs on the board. With the improved lineup, the staff may end up with much more rest then last season.
A Healthy Rotation
Eleven different pitchers started at least two games last season for Texas, and only three hurlers had 20 or more.
One of those hurlers wasn't even on the Opening Day roster. Martin Perez found his way into the rotation with a four-year contract extension after a good showing last year. He finished with a 10-6 record and a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts. He finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year vote but was arguably an MVP for Texas after injuries broke down the rotation.
Matt Harrison is making his return after multiple back surgeries cut his year short. He was a workhorse for the Rangers with two straight seasons of 30 starts in 2011 and 2012. Harrison will be a vital part of the rotation if he is as successful as he was prior to the surgeries.
With the improved lineup, Yu Darvish may be in line for a Cy Young. He finished second in voting last season with a 13-9 record and an MLB-best 277 strikeouts. He is at his best when he attacks and establishes his fastball, and he might be more comfortable doing that with better run support.
This team was able to win 91 games last season even though it was plagued with injuries and struggled to score runs. With a healthy rotation and improved lineup, the Rangers should find themselves back atop the AL West.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
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