The Rangers were the most prolific offense in all of MLB in 2008 scoring 901 runs, 46 more than the second place Cubs and 56 more than the Red Sox, the closest AL team in scoring.Â That offensive prowess doesnâ€™t look to be all that diminished going into this season.
Since scoring runs wonâ€™t be the issue, the onus for success lies squarely on the pitching staff -- something which has been the teamâ€™s great weakness over the last several decades.Â The Rangers didnâ€™t do a lot to improve themselves in the offseason, but are counting on some young arms, and some pitchers, including Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood, neither of whom managed to pitch a full season last year.
They hope to take advantage of a combination of healthy and improved pitching and improved defense to narrow the gap between themselves and the Angels this year.Â Â But will it be enough?
2008 Regular Season Record: 79-83
The Rangers' ballpark is beautiful from the outside, too.
Rank: Second in the AL West - 21.0 Games Back
Home Park: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Home on the Range:
SS - Omar Vizquel* (Free Agent from Giants)
OF - Andruw Jones* (Free Agent from Dodgers)
LHP - Eddie Guardado* (Free Agent from Twins)
RHP - Derrick Turnbow* (Free Agent from Brewers)
C- Gerald Laird (Traded to Tigers)
IF - Ramon Vazquez (Free Agent signed with Pirates)
OF - Milton Bradley (Free Agent signed with Cubs)
RHP - Kameron Loe* (Free Agent, went to Japan)
RHP - Jamie Wright* (Free Agent signed with Royals)
*Signed minor league contract.
The Rangers certainly can hit.Â Up and down the lineup the Rangers have guys who can hit for power and average.Â Two of their first three hitters, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton, are among the elite hitters at their positions and are capable of carrying this offense by themselves.
But they wonâ€™t have to; they have Michael Young, Marlon Byrd, Hank Blalock and a handful of extremely promising youngsters including Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden and Elvis Andrus -- all of whom have extremely high upsides which they have yet to realize.
That should keep the offense among the very best in the game and opposing pitchers had better beware.
Weaknesses:Â Pitching, inexperience, defense
Without a question the glaring weakness of the Texas ballclub is their pitching.Â Thatâ€™s no surprise; pitching has been a weakness for as long as the Rangers have played at hitting friendly Arlington -- the park friendliest to hitters of any in the Majors.Â Maybe itâ€™s the summer heat, maybe itâ€™s the cavernous park, the hard ground, or just something in the air, but whatever the reason ERAs just rise up there.Â No place saw more runs scored in 2008 and thatâ€™s just another trend which eats pitchers alive.
The Rangers tried to address this issue three years ago by bringing in Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla -- both of whom they thought could handle the stress of playing a summer in the Texas heat.Â That experiment hasnâ€™t really paid any dividends as neither has pitched more than one healthy season in that time.Â The Rangers are hoping this year will be the year it all comes together.
They wonâ€™t only be relying on Padilla and Millwood but on a trio of young pitchers all of whom they hoped would step to the fore over the past couple of seasons.Â But that hasnâ€™t happened yet and while Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison do have upside, they are unlikely to put it together this year.
The other pitcher in the rotation Scott Feldman is a converted reliever who in that role was capable of inducing a lot of ground balls.Â For him to be even moderately successful the defense will have to be a lot better and heâ€™ll have to improve his endurance and arm strength.
Defense is one area the Rangers are trying to address and to do that theyâ€™ll make some serious moves during the season.Â Hank Blalock will move to DH while Michael Young will give up his role as shortstop and move to third so that young defensive whiz Elvis Andrus can shore up the middle of the infield.
However, all of this is leading to a very strong youth movement on the field and 2009 should feature not just the 21 year old Andrus, but the 23 year old Chris Davis, the inexperienced Nelson Cruz and the extremely talented Taylor Teagarden whoâ€™ll likely serve in a back up role to begin the season.
2B - Ian Kinsler
3B - Michael Young
CF - Josh Hamilton
RF - Nelson Cruz
DH - Hank Blalock
LF - Marlon Byrd/Andruw Jones
1B - Chris Davis
C - Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Taylor Teagarden/Max Ramirez
SS - Elvis Andrus
SP1 â€“ Kevin Millwood
SP2 â€“ Vicente Padilla
SP3 â€“ Scott Feldman
SP4 â€“ Brandon McCarthy
SP5 â€“ Matt Harrison
CL â€“ Frank Francisco
One question that need answering:
Can the offense score enough runs to make up for weak pitching?Â More importantly can they score enough runs to catch up to an Angels team which failed to improve in the offseason?Â The answer to both is probably not, but for the Rangers to succeed that is exactly what will need to happen.
The Angels ran away with the division last year, and theyâ€™ll probably run away with it again, but not by quite as much.Â While the margin has narrowed, it has done so because the Angels are more offensively challenged than they were last year, still they have enough pitching and offense to stay ahead of the pack.Â Â The Rangers will once again finish second in the division, far out of the Wild Card, but ahead of an Aâ€™s team which did improve itself in the offseason.