Texas Rangers Look to Reclaim “Best in West”

It’s finally here. After a long, 6-month depression, baseball is finally back. And while most Rangers fans are worried about the 2012-13 offseason, everyone needs to be excited baseball is back in Texas.

As poorly as the Rangers finished the 2012 campaign, the buzz about 2013 should be great. We have no idea what the Rangers will do this season. We also have no idea what the rest of the American League will do.

The Yankees are old, the Red Sox are rebuilding and the Astros, well the Astros are still the Astros.

The AL West is finally a five-team division, the Toronto Blue Jays are reloaded, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim may have the best lineup in baseball, maybe.

But lets take a look at the 2013 Rangers.

As I discussed in an earlier preview, the starting rotation is strong.

But what about the rest of the team?

The infield looks similar to last season with a few exceptions, Mitch Moreland will get another chance to solidify his spot at First. Ian Kinlser will stay at second, for now, and bat leadoff. Elvis Andrus is still a rock at Short, and Adrian Beltre is arguably a preseason candidate for AL MVP, not to mention the best third baseman in baseball.

In my opinion, the Rangers struggled last season because of two key infield positions, catcher and utility man.

Mike Napoli struggled due to injury and inconsistency in 2012, which likely led to his departure this offseason. Michael Young was followed by drama of not playing on a daily basis, and eventually was traded. “Mr. Ranger’s” reputation became tarnished as his struggles at the plate and in the field continued to block the production of up-and-coming stars like Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, both of whom will start the season in Triple-A Roundrock.

Texas hasn’t had a top-notch catcher since Ivan Pudge Rodriguez. I would allow readers to make a case for Bill Haselmann, but that didn’t last long.

So they went out and got one in Aj Pierzynski. AJ hit a career-high 27 home runs and tied a career high with 77 RBI. He is a significant upgrade at catcher over Geovanny Soto or anyone else on the Free-Agent market.

New Texas Rangers Catcher AJ Pierzynski, 36, looks to add stability to the new Rangers lineup. (AP)

Expect AJ to give the Rangers stability behind the plate. He knows how to call a game, and knows how to get the best out of his pitchers.

The 13-year veteran is a .284 lifetime hitter, and has produced quality offensive numbers from both sides of the plate. He will help the Rangers’ bottom third of the order stay productive.

New Rangers DH Lance Berkman will help Texas replenish offensive production if he can stay healthy. (AP)

The Rangers also landed Texas native Lance Berkman to play DH and hopefully stay healthy. His knees haven’t kept up over the last few seasons, but this season won’t require him to play in the field. That way he can nap and snack instead of lumbering around the infield.

Texas added bullpen help in Derek Lowe and Joakim Soria. Lowe, 39, last pitched for the New York Yankees in 2012, and will fill the void left by Scott Feldman’s departure to Chicago (NL). Soria is coming off Tommy-John surgery but looks to be healthy late May or early June.

The other interesting cog this season is the utility man. Jeff Baker and Leury Garcia.

Baker can play both corner positions in the infield, and if this Spring Training was any indication, has a pretty swift stick. He hit .424 with 9 RBI and 32 total bases.

In no way am I saying this guy is better than Michael Young, but manager Ron Washington won’t have to force him into the lineup. Baker will play when called upon, and even adds a little warning-track power when called upon in a pinch-hit situation.

The other utility option is Leury Garcia. The Dominican native hit .250 this spring while popping 2 HR and driving in 7. But the key to his game, and what makes him a better fit in the utility role than Andres Blanco and Alberto Gonzalez, is his speed.

He stole two bases this spring, but is widely regarded as the fastest player in the clubhouse, regardless of how Craig Gentry feels that day.

Garcia will fill in as needed up the middle in either second or shortstop, but as shown in the final few spring games, can also play a centerfield spot.

That leads us to the outfield. Nelson Cruz is still swinging the BoomStick, David Murphy is still the “Little Engine that Could” and Josh Hamilton’s diva attitude has finally left the building. Yes, he hit 43 home runs last season and finished just behind the reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera in HRs and RBIs. But when all is said and done, the Rangers will be able to play their kind of baseball.

Ron Washington will make the guys run, and with Gentry and Leonys Martin in center, they have two pretty speedy options in the outfield.

Martin and Gentry came into the spring with the expectations of platooning for playing time, but Martin’s red-hot bat may have squeezed Gentry out.

Martin hit .359 and slugged .484. And although he didn’t produce a spring HR, he did show a bit of pop with four doubles and a couple of triples while driving in 13 runs. He also stole five bases this spring, but was thrown out four times as well.

New hitting coach Dave Magadan says Martin reminds him of a raw Jacoby Ellsbury. I hope he has the kind of breakout season Ellsbury had in 2011.

Gentry, on the other hand, started the spring on a tear, but slowed down as the season approached. Not the best way to campaign for a starting spot. He did show a little power, bopping 2 spring HRs.

So lets get down to the nitty-gritty of 2013. What are we expecting? Will the Rangers contend? Will the new additions wipe away mixed emotions of 2012?

Keys to April:
1. Sweep Houston to start the season. Get everyone’s minds on the right track to start. The Rangers must get off to a hot start. With 17 of their first 27 games on the road, the Rangers must start fast and hope to create a gap on the rest of the West.
2. Win 4-of-6 against the Angels. We saw what happened to the Angels last season, they started slow and weren’t able to recover, hopefully the Rangers can keep them at bay.
3. Bring winter gear to Wrigley. A three-game trip to Wrigley in mid-April is a little chillier than they are used to, but those are three must-win games.

Keys to May:
1. Sweep Houston. C’mon… it’s Houston, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”
2. Win the Homestand. Seven-straight home games against Detroit and Oakland could spark a significant win streak.

Keys to June:
1. Stay Healthy. The Rangers play 20 straight, 11-straight at home in the Texas heat. a 13-7 record is superb, 12-10 is the worst they can afford.
2. Go beat NY. Beat the Yankees in their house. That always gives a little ego-boost.

Keys to July:
1. Sweep Houston. Are the Astros a Major-League Team?
2. Finish the first half strong. They play another 19-straight heading into the All-Star Break. If they can manage to keep their heads above water, they can head into the break first in the AL West.

Keys to August:
1. Houston twice…
2. Enjoy your days off. The Rangers have 7 straight Thursdays off starting in August, that should give them enough rest heading into September to start a playoff push.
3. Win on the road. They play 10 games in 11 days on the road. 6-4 needed.

Keys to September:
1. Play up to competition. September is full of playoff-caliber teams. The Rangers must hit their stride in September.
2. Clinch the Division. Don’t let Oakland or LA creep into contention over the final weekend. Finish it early. Preferably in Houston.

Here is my prediction:

AL West
1. Texas Rangers – 93-69
2. Oakland A’s – 89-73
3. LA Angels – 89-73
4. Seattle Mariners – 75-87
5. Houston Astros – 59-103

AL Central
1. Detroit Tigers – 95-67
2. Cleveland Indians – 85-77
3. Chicago White Sox – 82-80
4. Kansas City Royals- 80-82
5. Minnesota Twins – 70-92

AL East
1. Toronto Blue Jays – 98-64
2. Tampa Bay Rays – 95-67
3. Baltimore Orioles – 90-72
4. Boston Red Sox – 82-80
5. New York Yankees – 81-81

AL Wildcards: Tampa Bay, Baltimore
AL Champion: Tampa Bay Rays.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – 98-64
2. San Francisco Giants – 93-69
3. Arizona D-Backs – 84-78
4. San Diego Padres – 79-83
5. Colorado Rockies – 74-88

NL Central
1. Cincinnati Reds – 97-65
2. Pittsburgh Pirates – 90-72
3. St. Louis Cardinals – 88-74
4. Milwaukee Brewers – 85-77
5. Chicago Cubs – 72-90

NL East
1. Washington Nationals – 101-61
2. Atlanta Braves – 94-68
3. Philadelphia Phillies – 87-75
4. New York Mets – 80-82
5. Miami Marlins – 72-90

NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, San Francisco
NL Champion: Washington Nationals

World Series Champion: Washington Nationals.

Topics: AL West, Jeff Baker, Leury Garcia, Neftali Feliz, Ron Washington, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals

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