|2007 Team Previews: The Texas Rangers||| Print ||
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on February 28, 2007
Regular Season Record: 80-82, 3rd in AL West – thirteen games behind the Oakland Athletics
Home Park: Ameriquest Field
New on the force:
Returned their badges:
The Skinny: As every year, the Rangers tried to find some pitching during the off-season and while Barry Zito rejected their 6-year-$102-million-offer to pitch for the Giants, they did get a potential ace in Brandon McCarthy and a potential lights-out closer in Eric Gagne. The key word here is potential as McCarthy is talented but mostly unproven while Gagne is a season ending injury waiting to happen. Besides those two, the Rangers also brought in a variety of other arms, most notably Willie Eyre and Bruce Chen. While pitching has been the front office’s priority, the most noise was made with the signing of Sammy Sosa to a minor league contract. Even though it isn’t a given that he’ll make the team, most people have already penciled him in as the Rangers’ DH.
Strengths: The Rangers have been one of the better offensive teams in the AL for years now, ranking in the Top 5 in each of the last five years (although that might have something to do with their ballpark, too). Carried by SS Michael Young and 1B Mark Teixeira, they won’t have much trouble scoring runs again, even though the defection of Carlos Lee to cross-state rival Houston will hurt them a bit. Good seasons from Hank Blalock and (make your choice) Sammy Sosa / Brad Wilkerson / Nelson Cruz / Frank Catalanotto could off-set that.
Weaknesses: Did I just list the Rangers’ pitching under strength? I did and on paper, that group probably looks better than anything the Rangers have sent out the last few years. But not even Millwood nor Padilla were able to keep their ERAs under 4.50 last year and sending out inexperienced pitchers in Arlington can do harm to their confidence. Because of the high scoring environment, starter will often be pulled early and that requires a deep bullpen. While the Rangers have assembled a large collection of young arms for their pen, who knows how long it will take them to find a group that gets the job done.
Keys to Success: Eric Gagne’s health will decide whether the Rangers’ bullpen is a liability or an asset and that might determine whether Texas has enough pitching to stay in race for the division title or not. Another key player is Hank Blalock, who has the talent but seems to lack the drive to work hard and improve himself. With manager Buck Showalter gone, who didn’t get along with players too well, Blalock may thrive though and if he’s really fine after off-season shoulder surgery, the third baseman could bounce back to give the Rangers an even stronger middle of the lineup.
Prediction: As usual, the Rangers will start strong and stay near or at the top of the AL West early on, but then falter in the summer months. Interestingly, it’s not that the Rangers are playing worse as the season goes on, but the A’s and Angels are always able to change into second gear after the All-Star break. But this year might be different. If Gagne is really healthy and the pitching staff keeps things together, the Rangers could be the dark horse in the West, especially if opponents’ key contributors like Rich Harden (A’s) or Vladimir Guerrero (Angels) go down with injuries. For the Rangers to win the division, everything has to fall the Rangers may, which is unlikely. So I predict another third place finish, this time barely above .500 (82-80).