Last year’s stink bomb presents a strange set of circumstances. The Texas Rangers enter this season with lowered expectations.
Oh, how the tables have turned. For the better part of the last decade, the Texas Rangers ruled the American League West with an iron fist. While they never really darkened the World Series doorstep since that dreadful 2011 nightmare, they were the unquestioned gold standard in their division. Teams built to beat the Rangers.
Then last year happened.
The Rangers never found their stride. Alleged young stars faltered massively. The team as a whole underachieved badly. In fact, the balance of power shifted profoundly. The Houston Astros fulfilled the Sports Illustrated prophecy they predicted in 2014 by storming to a championship. Our regional pride suffered a mortal wound. How on earth did our team become the second banana in our own state?
Well, as is the case in many facets of life, what’s done is done. We can dwell on the past, but it doesn’t do us any good in the present. The simple, sunlit facts are what they are. The Rangers enter this season as a decided underdog. Moreover, if we’re being honest with ourselves, the bar is pretty low as opening day approaches.
First off, the pitching rotation is a mess. Cole Hamels is the only known stalwart that will anchor a rotation of castoffs and retreads featuring names like Doug Fister, Matt Moore, and Mike Minor. Of course, local headcase Martin Perez still occupies a roster spot. And this doesn’t even take the troubled enigma known as Matt Bush into consideration. By most accounts, the Rangers aren’t so secretly planning on taking a six-man rotation into opening day.
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Secondly, the lineup presents more questions than answers. One hopes that shortstop Elvis Andrus continues what he started during last year’s career year at the plate. Then, the elephant in the room, Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre needs to maintain a modicum of health in order to provide a shot of general consistency. Given his advanced age, this is by no means a certainty. No one ever questions his heart or toughness, but there is also no doubt that he is in the twilight of a tremendous career. Suffice to say, the days of him playing 150 games in a season are long gone.
Next, Manager Jeff Banister must find a way to get the most out of the troika of the “alleged” stars I referred to a little while back. Make no mistake, this team’s offensive fortunes rest on the shoulders of Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, and Rougned Odor.
As far as Gallo is concerned, he has to continue the improvement he showed last year. He’ll always be a strikeout factory, but his penchant for drawing more walks is a welcome upgrade to his game. Tape measure home runs are nice, but consistent on-base percentage and generally being a tougher out will only round out his presentation in the batter’s box.
As for Mazara, his production must take on a larger measure of stability. When he’s on, he has the look of an offensive catalyst. But his contributions have been far too inconsistent to carry the team for any stretch of time. The good news, though, is that he turns twenty-three in the first month of the season. His development only figures to continue as he gains a firmer grasp of big league pitching.
Finally, second baseman Rougned Odor must shake loose from his abominable 2017 season. The Texas Rangers sunk a lot of money into this guy. Prior to last season, he’d achieved folk hero status. His hard-nosed style and willingness to mix it up with a certain known prima donna endeared him to Ranger fans to the end of time. But if he ends up wetting the bed again offensively, then his contract will be among the worst and most questionable in all of baseball.
Uncertainty abounds as opening day approaches. The realistic expectation for 2018 is for the Rangers to vie for a wild card. Even then, a lot of things must go right in order for them to contend. Pitchers must eat innings and find ways to miss bats and get outs. The offense cannot tank like they did for large stretches last season. If anything veers off schedule, it could be a very long spring and summer in Arlington.