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Springtime Storylines: Can the Rangers win the AL once again?

Mar 21, 2012, 2:00 PM EDT

Ron Washington

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

The Big Question: Can the Rangers win the AL again?

Why not? It’s oh so fashionable to pick the Angels at the moment thanks to their twin pickups in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson — the latter of which was a double blow to the Rangers as he leaves Texas — but it’s not like the Rangers are some team in decline. They were a better team than the Angels were to begin with and then they went and replaced Wilson with Yu Darvish (more on him below). Neftali Feliz is likely slated for the rotation and Alexi Ogando for the pen, but it remains a very deep staff. What the Rangers have in 2012 is a lot like what they had in 2011: a top five pitching staff, a top three lineup a lot of team depth and a lot of games against the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s. That’s a recipe for a very respectable win total and, I suspect, another playoff birth.

But how deep can that run go? With the caveat that luck plays a big role in the postseason, I wonder if this will be a more tired Rangers club when October rolls around. While I give a slight edge to the Rangers in the division, the Angels are a better team than they were before and thus the Rangers may be in a race much longer this season than they were last. That added pressure, along with two straight years of long playoff runs, could mean a lot of tired arms and legs in Arlington. Nothing is guaranteed when you reach the playoffs, but it’s possible for the Rangers’ unmatched recent playoff experience to be offset by some fatigue.

That’s several months from now, of course. In the meantime, it’s worth watching the Rangers’ health. Because, really, that’s the biggest threat I see to this club.

What else is going on?

  • Yu Darvish is going on. Tons of hype to be sure — and a lot of money when you combine that posting fee with that contract — but Darvish seems like the real deal. Depending on who you believe, he is poised to be just as valuable as C.J. Wilson was and could be more valuable if things break right.
  • More broadly, the Rangers’ rotation is still pretty spiffy. In addition to Darvish, you have Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis, Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando. Two of them — Feldman and Ogando for now — will be in the pen, but Ron Washington has a lot of good starting pitching at his disposal. I mentioned the injury bug when talking about the Angels rotation yesterday. If it bites the Rangers, there’s a much bigger margin for error here.
  • The offense is basically the same and it was excellent last year. Figure some regression for Mike Napoli and Michael Young, both of whom are coming off fantastic seasons, but overall it remains extremely strong.
  • I believe in Joe Nathan. I know some people look at his age (37 this season) and his overall numbers from 2011 (bad) and wonder if he can handle the closer’s role, but he was better in the second half last year. It’s possible that he needed a few months to shake off the rust following a year off from Tommy John surgery. Even if he’s not as good as Neftali Feliz has been in the role, he’s not the only horse in that bullpen.
  • Apropos of nothing, but it’s worth mentioning that the Rangers have improved every single year since Ron Washington has been on the job. Texas won 75 games in 2007. Since then they’ve won 79, 87, 90 and then 96 games. Players come and go. Washington — and the front office who restocks the roster — keeps on keepin’ on.

How are they gonna do?

It’s going to be a close race with Anaheim. But I don’t think the Rangers got any worse since they were one strike away from winning the World Series. And they may be better.

  1. bufordmaddogtannen - Mar 21, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    As a die hard Rangers fan, I remain cautiously optimistic about our chances. I unfortunately dont see us reaching the World Series again. Nothing would make me happier though than to see the Angels fail, just so that stupid hippie wannabe race car driving organic nutbag Wilson will shut his mouth.

  2. sdelmonte - Mar 21, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    I tend to say that unless something changes drastically for the worse, a defending champ should be the favorite to repeat. Yes, the Angels upgraded. But I see in the Rangers a team that has grown together over the last two years, and that has a front office willing to make changes in midseason to keep things flowing. Never mind Yu. I see them definitely taking the division.

    Though after that, it’s anyone’s guess in that top-heavy league.

  3. buffalomafia - Mar 21, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    I hate George Bush so I hope they finish last!

  4. spytdi - Mar 21, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    Genius! He’s no longer affiliated with the club. Crawl back into your hole.

    Red Sox scare me. They have tons of talent and a different approach this year under Bobby V. I think they win the division but meet a stout opponent in the classic.

    “I hate George Bush so I hope they finish last!”

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 21, 2012 at 5:04 PM

      Red Sox scare me. They have tons of talent and a different approach this year under Bobby V. I think they win the division but meet a stout opponent in the classic.

      Is your “they” referring to the Sox or the Rangers? Because you might be the first person to say they are scared of a Sox team that has two reliable starters and three question marks, as well as bullpen question marks, and outfield/infield issues….

  5. El Bravo - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Angels will win this division and will own the best rotation in baseball in reality and on paper. Did you hear that Philly? Tampa? Texas? Yanks?

  6. surefooted1 - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:58 PM

    As long as they’re not playing the Yankees in the playoffs and have Joe Nathan on to close the game, sure. Lol

    Memories…..

  7. cintiphil - Mar 21, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    They certainly can repeat, but, they have to remember one important thing. You can not win the game until you get THREE outs in the bottom of the ninth and ahead by two runs. That also applies to the bottom of the 10th, 11th, and so on. Good luck against the Reds in the series.

  8. fairleyobvious - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    Tigers!

  9. artisan3m - Apr 4, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Rangers! More power hitters, best rotation, strongest pen, and one of the best defensive infields in baseball. I wouldn’t worry too much about Wilson being gone. No other team worried much about him when he was a Ranger so relocation won’t change the fear factor. Hamilton’s career is on the line this season so look for him to produce ~ and stay healthy. Unless the Rangers are happy being a bridesmaid, they can win it all in 2012.

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