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.
Adam Wainwright is not a fan of the proposed strike zone changes
It’s probably not a big shocker that a pitcher is not a big fan of the strike zone being made smaller, but Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he is not a fan of the proposed changes to the strike zone we wrote about recently, calling the proposal “a horrible, horrible idea.”
Horrible, he acknowledges, because he’s a pitcher with a vested interest so, yes, let’s give Wainwright credit for self-awareness and for disclosing his self-interest. But he thinks it’s a bad idea for another reason too: more hits will lead to more balls in the gap and thus longer games.
I get the intuitive nature of that — the longer it takes to retire a side the longer games go — but it doesn’t necessarily follow that offense and game times are related in the way Wainwright implies. There was a lot more scoring in the 1990s and early 2000s and games were actually shorter then than now. Partially because of other factors (i.e. there were not quite as many pitching changes and because guys played at a faster clip). Partially, I suspect, because there were fewer strikeouts and strikeouts take a longer time than guys grounding out or having some of those balls in the gap caught on the run by a fast outfielder.
As I said last week, I suspect that we’ll see fewer balls in the gap than Wainwright implies and, rather, a lot more walks as pitchers test umpires to see if they’re really taking away that low strike. In the short term that’ll actually make games longer, though not for the reason Wainwright thinks.
SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo hears from a source that former major leaguer Jonny Gomes has decided to retire from baseball. The 35-year-old spent the 2016 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japan Pacific League, but he struggled at the plate, batting .169/.280/.246 in 75 plate appearances. Gomes left the Eagles by mutual consent back on May 11.
Gomes won a championship with the Red Sox in 2013 and the Royals last year. He ends a 13-year major league career having hit .242/333/.436 with 162 home runs in 4,009 trips to the plate.
Gomes was known as a clubhouse leader during his playing career, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up coaching or managing in some capacity in the future.
The pitching match-ups aren’t at all exciting, sadly, but there are a few streaks to pay attention to tonight. Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. is on a 28-game hitting streak, tying him with Wade Boggs for eighth-most in Red Sox history. Teammate Xander Bogaerts is on a 17-game hitting streak as well.
Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna has reached base in 31 consecutive games. And to think that owner Jeffrey Loria would have traded him during the offseason if not for manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds speaking up in favor of keeping Ozuna.
Frisco RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik got his money’s worth last night. He was ejected after arguing an automatic double play on an enforcement of the slide rule, and he didn’t go gently into that goodnight.
Rather, he threw things, kicked things, threw things and then subsequently kicked those same things, gave overly-demonstrative slides and safe signs and basically went all Earl Weaver/Lou Piniella on everyone.
Double-A baseball is the best minor league because you tend to see more prospects there than you do at Triple-A. But it’s also the best because, when you’re a manager who is not quite a heartbeat away from getting your shot at the big leagues, you’re a little less uptight about things. Or at least Mikulik was. Or maybe he was more uptight. I don’t know. He just went with it, and going with it has its charms.