2012 ended with a resounding thud for the Texas Rangers. Winners of the last 2 AL pennants, Texas got off to a great start, hitting the All-Star Break with a 52-34 record and their path to the playoffs all but assured.
However, they went just 41-35 after the break, were swept by the A’s in the final regular season series to lose the division and get shoved into the Wild Card game where they were officially dismissed from the party by the Orioles. It all happened so fast that fans were left scratching their heads over what the heck went wrong.
Ron Washington’s team led all of baseball in runs scored with 808. They finished the year with a +101 run differential, 3rd best in the AL. The Rangers didn’t have a ton of success on the road, going just 43-38 and their starting pitching’s collective 4.30 ERA was 20th best in baseball.
To make matters worse, GM Jon Daniels had a frustrating offseason. Gone are longtime rocks Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, not to mention Mike Napoli. That’s an awful lot of run production leaving the lineup. On top of those losses was their inability to sign Zack Greinke, who instead signed for big dollars with the Dodgers. The Rangers got pretty heavy into the Justin Upton sweepstakes as well but eventually lost out on that to the Braves.
Skeptical fans might wonder if the Rangers just saw their window of opportunity for that elusive World Series title slam shut.
Despite the offseason disappointments, Texas returns to play in 2013 with a still loaded roster. They did bring in Joakim Soria to help stabilize the bullpen and assist in setting things up for Joe Nathan. Their catching issues from a season ago will also be resolved with the arrival of AJ Pierzynski, one of the most underrated catchers in the biz. Lance Berkman will also join up and look to rebound from a lost 2012.
So can the Rangers put the disastrous finish to 2012 behind them and regain their glory?
Best Case Scenario for 2013
The Rangers will have to contend with an improved Angels team, an A’s squad that can pitch with anybody, and a measure of hope in Seattle. They’d be wise to beat up on the hapless Astros at every opportunity, starting with Opening Day. 2013 should be a fun year in Arlington with the potential full-time arrivals of top prospect Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin, Mike Olt, and Martin Perez. This core of youngsters will be surrounded by legitimate veteran talent and if the potion mixes up just right, the Rangers can certainly win the AL West again. I have reason to doubt that their pitching is elite enough to win it all but stranger things have definitely happened.
Most Important Rangers
With Josh Hamilton out of town Adrian Beltre no longer has his running mate in the middle of the order, but Texas will need him to produce just the same. Beltre was dominant in 2012, hitting .321 with 36 homers and 102 RBI’s. Much of the home run power has disappeared from the lineup this offseason. Assuming PED issues don’t haunt Nelson Cruz, these 2 will be tasked with doing major destruction to the opposition’s pitching staffs. Beltre has been no stranger to the disabled list throughout his career but will need a repeat of last year when he played 156 games and helped carry the offense. If he lands on the DL for an extended period of time I would expect Texas’ offense to sag considerably in his absence.
Despite the talents of Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Robbie Ross, and Martin Perez, there is but one pitcher on this team with true ace-caliber skills, and that’s Yu Darvish. If you break Darvish’s season down by month he bookended the year by going 7-0 in April and September with ERA’s of 2.18 and 2.21 respectively. In between his monthly ERA’s were 4.50, 4.15, 5.74, and 5.29. Texas very clearly needs him to be more consistent from month to month. Darvish can be excused for some disappointment due to his cultural change and seeing new hitters every time he hit the mound. The positive is that he made the adjustment in September and was dominant at the end of the year, proving fatigue was not at play and that he is truly legit. Opponents only hit .220 off of Yu last year and he K’d 221 hitters in 191.1 innings. If he can cut down on the 89 walks he surrendered (he walked just 7 in 5 September starts) he could turn in a season long ERA in the low 3’s or perhaps even better.
Potential Breakout Players
The Rangers have several players that fall into this category. Leonys Martin should be the new almost every day centerfielder thanks to the vacancy left by Hamilton. He didn’t hit well during his brief call-up last year but the 24-year old has owned the minor leagues and should be ready to roll at the big league level. In just 55 AAA games in 2012, Martin hit .359 with 12 homers, 42 RBI’s, and 10 steals. Multiply that by roughly 3 and you’d have some scary numbers. If Martin earns the confidence of Washington in camp and gets everyday playing time he could hit near .300 and approach a 20/20 season of homers and steals. If he struggles and has to share a bunch of time with Chris Gentry it could spell trouble for that spot in the lineup.
I wonder what it’s like to be widely considered the top prospect in baseball and not have a place to play. Jurickson Profar is the guy to ask. The electrifying shortstop is so good that some experts thought the Rangers would shop incumbent Elvis Andrus in the offseason to open up a spot for Profar, whose games appears legit, and his intangibles off the charts. Alas, Andrus remains and Ian Kinsler rejected a proposed move to 1st base. Profar enters his age 20 season desperately wanting to be up with the big club but the Rangers would be wise to give him regular at-bats in AAA and let him continue to build his resume until the roster sorts itself out. Should Andrus or Kinsler go down though, and Kinsler has certainly done that before, then Profar would likely get the call.
Worst Case Scenario
If the Rangers can’t find a way to replace the professional hitting of Hamilton, Young, and Napoli, and runs suddenly become more difficult to find, this team will struggle. The starting pitching is good but not likely great as an overall unit, although neither is the rotation that the Angels feature. Oakland’s is the best in the division and if they can keep slamming homers at a prolific rate, then the Rangers will have 2 teams to contend with in the West. It’s feasible, but unlikely, that the AL West could get 3 teams into the playoffs this year. Regardless, the worst-case scenario is a sub-90 win season and a near miss on the playoffs.
Areas of Concern
No single area is of overall great concern but I do worry about their power production in the lineup and how good their rotation will end up being. Regarding the rotation, it seems fairly obvious that Darvish, Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando will be the top 4. The 5th spot is full of questions. Will Robbie Ross be converted back to being a starter or is he more valuable in the pen? When will Neftali Feliz be back? Will Colby Lewis be able to return by midseason and pitch effectively? Is Martin Perez ready? Initially, due to the injury issues of Feliz and Lewis, it seems the battle will be on in spring training between Ross and Perez. Ross was outstanding in relief as a rookie in 2012. If Perez looks like he is ready to give 6 innings and enough quality starts to be passable, then their best play may be leaving Ross in the bullpen and giving Perez the first shot. The most sure things are Darvish and Harrison. Holland took a step back in 2012 by allowing 32 homers and a 4.67 ERA. Ogando started just 1 game last year, pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen. He’s been good wherever he has pitched though and should succeed if he can hold up for 32 games. If the offense takes a step back in 2012, which seems very likely, then the pitching staff will have to step up. This will be a big storyline in 2013.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012
I’m not sure that anyone can replace the production of Josh Hamilton singlehandedly, but Lance Berkman, even at age 37, has the potential to make up for a lot of it. Since 2009, Berkman’s body has had a difficult managing the rigors of big league life. And just went it seemed like he was on his way out of baseball after a subpar 2010, he erupted for the Cardinals in ‘11 as he recaptured his leg drive at the plate and his power as a result. He stayed on the diamond for 145 games that year and pounded out 31 homers and 94 RBI’s in just 488 at-bats. It was enough that St. Louis signed up for an encore in 2011 and all they got were 32 games and 2 homers. So what can he do in 2013? Of the 1,806 career games he has played, only 37 of them have come in the American League. He’ll be back in the Texas heat and asked to only be a DH this season. With the launching pad in Arlington at his disposal, a bounce back year seems in order. If Ron Washington can pencil him in at least 120 times the offense will be in good shape.
On the mound, the 26-year old Derek Holland really has the chance to make or break the rotation. If he can finally live up to the hype and turn in a big season on the hill, then Texas’ starting 5 immediately goes from suspect to solid. Holland has never been a stranger to serving up the long ball but the 32 he dished out in 2012 were a bit alarming. The rest of his peripheral numbers were right in line or even better than his 16-win season in 2011, so there isn’t cause for great concern. If Holland can resist his inner-Ervin Santana, and keep the ball in the yard, then Texas is sure to give the Angels and A’s all they can handle in the West.
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