ARLINGTON, TX - Derek Holland #45 of the Texas Rangers celebrates after the final out of Game Six of the American League Championship Series with the Rangers defeating the Detroit Tigers 15-5 to advance to the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The Texas Rangers are trying to win the pennant for the third straight year, and they'll have most of the supporting cast back with one major exception.
The Texas Rangers aren't a perfect franchise. The thing about the Rangers is … see, what's wrong with the Rangers is that …
I don't know. There's probably something.
Oh, what's this?
An ice cream bowl? Those idiots. Those will melt in 30 minutes, and the crowd will be filled with 10,000 crying children with sticky hands. Way to go, Rangers. Nice promotion. Way to run a franchise.
But, yeah. Other than that, it's a very, very well-run organization. They have money. They have young stars on the team; they have future stars in their system. They have pitching; they have hitting. They have marketable players; they have quietly awesome and underrated players. The Texas Rangers are the Yale-bound cheerleader with perfect teeth who helps at the soup kitchen after school. And you sort of want to slash their tires.
For all of the things that are going well for the franchise, though, they still haven't brought home that elusive championship. But anyone who is too hard on them for losing two straight World Series isn't much of a baseball fan. Weird, freaky things happen in baseball games. Over 162 games, the weird and freaky are scattered like so many dandelion spores. In the playoffs, the weird and freaky are administered intravenously before you have a chance to object. It isn't fair to judge teams based on a handful of games that everyone happened to be watching.
And the same cast is coming back, for the most part. The lineup isn't changing a bit, and they'll still have guys hitting leadoff or 7th who could hit cleanup for a lot of teams. When you pick nits with the lineup, you're picking nits with the #8 and #9 hitters. Those nits could probably just be left alone. There are a couple candidates for decline in the lineup: Michael Young (who should probably hit much closer to his career line in his age-35 season), and Mike Napoli (who should still be a large human who is skilled at hitting baseballs, but he shouldn't be that good again). But, again: nits.
Josh Hamilton probably isn't going to age like a fine wine, but he'll be good for at least one more year with the Rangers. Ian Kinsler is one of the more underrated players in baseball; Adrian Beltre isn't far behind. Nelson Cruz has hamstrings of cotton candy, but at least he provides a jolt of power when he's in the lineup, and at least cotton candy is delicious.
The changes of the offseason were confined to the pitching staff. No team has executed the reliever-to-starter gambit better in recent years than have the Rangers. C.J. Wilson's successful conversion helped the Rangers to two straight pennants, and it probably made him tens of millions of dollars richer. Alexi Ogando had a little trouble with the endurance required to be a starter, but he still pushed his team towards an AL West title. And the Rangers will hope to go back to the same outlet store, putting Neftali Feliz in the rotation. Last season was a weird one for Feliz, as his strikeouts plummeted and his walks shot up, but the bulk of that anomalous line was built up in the first half. Whatever mechanical adjustments he needed to make, he made them.
The biggest difference on the team is the swap of C.J. Wilson for Yu Darvish. There is a decent chance that Darvish is better right away than Wilson will ever be. Darvish's repertoire is absurd, and he's abused Japanese hitters since he was a teenager. His ERA hasn't been over 2.00 for five years, and while you can't just plug those stats into the 2012 Rangers, they give you a pretty good idea of how dominant he was against legitimate competition. I'm bullish on Darvish, and considering how much the Rangers spent to get him, so are the Rangers.
But C.J. Wilson was a known quantity. After decades and decades of futzing around with pitchers of dubious quality, trying to find decent complements for their usually potent offense, they finally found a handful of good pitchers who didn't melt in the Ballpark at Arlington. Wilson's strikeout/groundball combination was a great fit for Texas. Darvish might be as good. He might be better. But there's an if-it-ain't-broke feeling to the swap. The Rangers were doing just fine with Wilson. Now they've changed horses of different colors while making them drink midstream. Or something. Swapping the two pitchers is an understandable move, but it's not without serious risks.
The Rangers aren't a perfect franchise. But when it comes to short-term, long-term, and fiscal health, they're about as close as a team can get in 2012. They should make the playoffs, though the Angels are also a fantastic team, and it's hard to picture the AL East producing only one playoff team. When you put it like that, there's a chance that they'll miss the playoffs entirely, which is silly considering the talent on the roster. Baseball gonna baseball, I guess.
And if they get to the playoffs, the best-run franchise in the game will need just a little more luck. That's something that a team needs to win it all, and it also happens to be something a team can't buy, develop, draft, or sign. That's the only problem the Rangers have from here.
Coulda Shoulda Woulda (Hole they didn't fill)
It was easy for me to pretend that Prince Fielder was the natural fit for the Rangers until he ended up costing more than a manned exploration of Mars. But first base was the obvious hole in the offseason. Throughout the postseason, Mitch Moreland looked completely out of place on the Rangers, both on offense and defense.
He'll be 26, so improvement isn't out of the question, but he wasn't especially dominant in the minors, either. He won't drag the Rangers down, but he probably isn't going to propel them forward.
I love the Neftali Feliz move. His value has a good chance of increasing in the rotation. But reliever-to-starter conversions are always nerve-wracking, uncertain things. The Rangers have a good history with the move; the genre as a whole, though, is decidedly mixed.
They have a better chance of finishing closer to 99 wins than 89, and they'll take one of the 46 playoff spots in 2012.
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