The long wait is finally over. The Texas Rangers will finally be flying a pennant in their ballpark following their first ever American League title.
The Rangers fell short in the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, but that can’t dampen the enthusiasm following their sensational 2010 campaign, and most observers seem to feel they’re bound to be in the 2011 pennant mix as well.
I’m not so sure.
I’m not calling for the Rangers to tumble back to mediocrity this year, but I just cannot see them enjoying the same level of success that we all just witnessed. I’ve got serious concerns about the pitching, and if the arms can’t deliver a similar showing to what took place in 2010, the offense alone won’t be enough to carry this team back to the playoffs.
Obviously, the loss of Cliff Lee to the Phillies as a free agent is huge. Lee’s numbers with the Rangers were actually very ordinary. He won just four of his 10 decisions, and his ERA was barely below 4.00.
Of course, Lee was amazing throughout the American League playoffs and it’s unlikely the Rangers would have made it to the World Series without him. But just the mere presence of Lee was a huge psychological boost for the entire staff, and his absence is undoubtedly going to be severely felt.
C.J. Wilson will now have to shoulder the load as the Texas ace. Wilson was an absolute revelation for the Rangers in ’10, emerging from the bullpen to win 15 games with solid across the board numbers.
Wilson’s stuff is good enough to call for an encore performance. But he’ll also be facing the added pressure of being counted on as the staff ace, and it’s important to note that Wilson threw nearly as many innings last year as he had in the previous four seasons pitching out of the pen.
Colby Lewis was another very pleasant surprise, and he was better than his 12-13 record would indicate. Lewis is in great shape as camp gets under way, having dropped 15 pounds during the offseason. He’s a real bulldog, and I can easily see him eclipsing last year’s numbers. Tommy Hunter doesn’t have great stuff, but it’s tough to knock his results.
The back end of the projected rotation is very shaky. Anything good the Rangers get from Brandon Webb is gravy. Webb has been out for virtually two entire seasons, and he may well be merely a shell of what he was in his days as the ace of the Diamondbacks.
Derek Holland has yet to prove he can cut it at the big league level. Dave Bush is also on hand, but if the Rangers have to plug him into the rotation on a regular basis, it’s not a good sign.
The bullpen looks strong. Neftali Feliz has starter stuff, but he’s been so good as a closer that there’s little point in moving him. Texas has a deep array of arms in front of Feliz, and they should once again prove to be very tough in late-game situations when they have a lead.
The lineup is loaded. I expect that 2B Ian Kinsler will be moved back to the spot he’s best suited for, which is leadoff hitter. If Michael Young remains a Ranger, he’s a solid No. 2, and a healthy Josh Hamilton is downright scary hitting third.
Vladimir Guerrero is now in Baltimore, but the Rangers are excited about the arrival of 3B Adrian Beltre, and he has the potential to be a dynamic cleanup hitter. Nelson Cruz needs to avoid those pesky hamstring issues, but the RF is a monster producer when he’s right.
The sixth and seventh spots will be manned by Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba, depending on who’s pitching for the opposition. The bottom of the order should feature CF Julio Borbon and SS Elvis Andrus.
As usual, there’s no set role for OF David Murphy, but he always seems to find his way into the lineup for 450 or more plate appearances.
Despite what is clearly an extremely impressive arsenal, I can still foresee some issues with the Texas offense. Hamilton is the ultimate stud, but he’s missed lots of games the last couple of seasons.
Beltre has never put together back-to-back big years, and his two top-of-the-chart seasons were both when he was entering free agency. Borbon has yet to show he’s capable of being the everyday CF.
Then there’s the situation with Michael Young. He’s clearly not happy with his situation in Texas. While Young is the consummate pro, he does not appear to be relishing the idea of being a DH/utility player, and this looms as a potential headache until the situation is somehow resolved.
This wraps up my AL West previews, so it’s time to make predictions on the pecking order. I can see this division being up for grabs right into the final week of the season.
I’m not sold on the Angels and feel they did a lousy job of adding pieces in the offseason. Nevertheless, they own a dynamite rotation, and Mike Scioscia is as good as it gets in the dugout. If the bullpen doesn’t melt down (a definite possibility), I like the Halos to squeeze out the win.
I’m going with Oakland to finish second. The A’s have the best pitching in the AL West when the pen is factored in. But there’s still not much pop in the lineup, and one key injury to the staff would be a major problem.
I’ll go out on a limb somewhat and tab Texas to drop to third place, although they could easily repeat as division champs. Call it a gut feeling. Everything went right for this team last year, and that doesn’t always happen the next time around.
Seattle is clearly the weakest team in the AL West, and I’d be very surprised if they finish anywhere other than last place. But I like the direction of the franchise, and the Mariners at least have some legitimate hope for the future.
My baseball numbers last year were nothing short of spectacular, with a documented net profit of more than 51 units (based on a flat one-unit per play). For info on my guaranteed 2011 baseball selections, contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.