Thursday, March 08, 2007

Preseason Preview: Rangers

(Pssst... pretend it's March 8th. I back-dated the previews so I could a) pretend I wasn't a lazy you-know-what who fell off on my sacred duty to write baseball, and b) fit them all in March before the season started in, oh, ELEVEN DAYS. Hallelujah. This is my fifteenth preview, which means I'm halfway there).

The Rangers are another team that seems always to be just good enough to lose. While they had A-Rod, they were permanently in the cellar, and even without A-Rod, they still don't seem to have the pieces to push them up over the hump once and for all. They have Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, and emerging young second baseman Ian Kinsler to anchor what has always been a scary offense, but not even bats can win the day in Arlington. After ditching their affiliation with struggling sponsor Ameriquest, the ballpark is back to "Rangers Ballpark in Arlington," which, if clunky, is better than "Ameriquest Field in Arlington." Dunno if I've mentioned this, but I've never been a fan of stadiums named after corporations, no matter that it is rampant across professional sports and not just baseball. Count me nostalgic for the old days, I guess. But baseball's a business, and it's always moving forward.

The same may or may not be said for the Rangers. Let's take a look.

The Texas Rangers

1. Kevin Millwood, RHP
2. Vicente Padilla, RHP
3. Kameron Loe, RHP
4. Robinson Tejeda, RHP
5. Brandon McCarthy, RHP

1. Eric Gagne, RHP
2. Akinori Otsuka, RHP
3. C.J. Wilson, LHP
4. Rick Bauer, RHP
5. Frank Francisco, RHP
6. Ron Mahay, LHP
7. John Rheinecker, LHP

1B Mark Teixeira
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
3B Hank Blalock
RF Nelson Cruz
CF Kenny Lofton
LF Brad Wilkerson
C Gerald Laird
DH Sammy Sosa

The 500 (Well, 678) Word Rundown
The Rangers have undergone an aggressive revamping this year, starting with the manager. Nice-guy-but-milquetoast Buck Showalter was run out of town in favor of fiery ex-A third base coach Ron Washington, a central figure to the Oakland character and who will be missed by that team, especially when the Rangers are playing against them. I have a feeling that the Rangers are going to win a lot of games against the A's this year simply by dint of the fact that they have an insider at the helm. Wash was considered by many to be the leading candidate for the Oakland managerial job after Ken Macha was fired, but took the Texas post instead. It remains to be seen if he can resuscitate a talented but underachieving franchise. The hitters, while perenially tabbed as the Texas All-Stars, seem to benefit greatly from their launching pad of a home field, the AL version of Coors. Hank Blalock in particular took a drop-off last year, hitting .278 at home, .253 on the road, and .266 overall, with 16 HR and 89 RBI - not bad, but a bit of a decline for a guy who was .276/32/110 just two years previously.

Showing that they don't learn lessons and are always willing to massively overspend on ludicrous contracts, the Rangers almost equaled their A-Rod idiocy this past offseason by rewarding 30-year-old shortstop Michael Young with a five-year, $80 million extension. John Hicks has always shown a willingness to open the purse strings, and while Young is good, he's going to be dragging at the tail end of that contract, which runs through the 2013 season. .314/14/103 are certainly numbers you'd want every day in your lineup, especially when you calculate that he hit 52 doubles and even legged out 3 triples, but Young was also susceptible to the Arlington effect - .346 at home, .280 on the road. He may be worth that kind of money for the first two or three years, but once he hits his age-35 season, it's going to be another financial burden on the Rangers.

Mark Teixeira remains the one Rangers hitter that I am legitimately afraid of; I never wanted to see him at the plate in a tight situation, especially with his propensity for bombing game-winning homers - usually off Huston Street. He has strong peripherals all around, and was one of the few Rangers to actually hit higher on the road - .298 vs. .266 at the Ballpark. There seems to be not much you can do to neutralize him. He hit 21 of his 33 homers off of lefty pitchers, but hit .302 against right-handers - he remains a dangerous power threat and an established cleanup hitter. The Rangers also brought in Sammy Sosa, who I have lost all respect for after the fairly inarguable proof positive that he was a heavy steroid user. Still, the Rangers are hoping he still has something left in that bat, corked or otherwise, and if (this is a big if) he can regain even a glimmer of his mashing ways, the offensive could be as strong as ever.

But that's still not going to help the pitching staff. Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla lead the starters' corps; they went 16-12/4.52 and 15-10/4.50, respectively. The Rangers have also shored up the relief corps with former NL Cy Young winner Eric Gagne, who's missed a massive amount of time with nerve problems, and quality setup man Akinori Otsuka, hoping to provide more of a lockdown on the late innings than last year, when their not-too-brilliant bullpen let one too many slip away.

In a way, the team most comparable to the Rangers is the Rockies. Launching-pad home stadium, terrific offense, mediocre starting pitching, suspect bullpen. The Rockies are almost never picked to take their West, while the Rangers, for some reason, are expected to contend in theirs. They may be better, or they may not. But unless the Rockies win their West (which I would not mind at all!) then the Rangers likely won't win theirs, either.

Projected Finish:
83-79, third place, AL West

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