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2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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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 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.*

(Ashley did the Mariners preview and picked them to be in second place. I hadn’t read her M’s preview first and she didn’t read my Rangers preview before doing hers. Upon reading hers and thinking harder I’m probably leaning more toward the Rangers coming in third to be honest, but I won’t change this because taking predictions seriously is pointless. We’ll all just check back in October).

Steve Delabar among three suspended after testing positive

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Three players were suspended on Monday after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. They are: Indians pitcher Steve Delabar, Mariners pitcher Jonathan Aro, and free agent pitcher Jeffry Hernandez. Aro got a 50-game suspension while the other two were handed 80-game suspensions.

Delabar, 33, hasn’t pitched yet this season after signing a minor league deal with the Indians back in January. He spent last year with the Reds as well as the Hiroshima Carp in the Japan Central League. The right-hander has struggled over the last few seasons.

Aro, 26, also hasn’t appeared yet this season in the minors. He’s worked mostly in relief. The right-hander appeared briefly in the majors with the Mariners last season and logged 10 1/3 innings in the show with the Red Sox in 2015. Aro went to the Mariners along with Wade Miley in the trade that brought the Red Sox Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.

Hernandez, 22, is a free agent and his suspension will be effective if and when he signs with a new team.

Phillies place Aaron Nola on the disabled list

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The Phillies announced on Monday that starter Aaron Nola has been placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to April 21, with a lower back strain.

Nola, 23, compiled a 4.50 ERA with a 15/6 K/BB ratio over his first three starts spanning 16 innings. He felt some back soreness during his last start on Thursday against the Mets, and it lingered when he had a side session on Sunday.

CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury hears that the Phillies are likely to call up Nick Pivetta from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take Nola’s place in the rotation. Nola was scheduled to start on Wednesday.

Pivetta, 24, was acquired from the Nationals in the Jonathan Papelbon trade in July 2015. At Triple-A so far, Pivetta has given up only two earned runs on 12 hits and two walks with 24 strikeouts in 19 innings.