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2010 Texas Rangers
Posted By Cliff Corcoran On April 16, 2010 @ 6:00 pm In Cliff Corcoran,Series Preview | Comments Disabled
As long as I can remember, the line on the Rangers was always that they’d be dangerous if they could ever find some pitching. Scoring runs in the Texas heat was no major challenge (though scoring runs on the road often was), it was preventing them that was the trick. Well, last year the Rangers were the fourth stingiest team in the junior circut, but it wasn’t so much that they found some pitchers (though they have several talented young arms in development) but that they found some fielders.
The Rangers were dead last in the majors in defensive efficiency in 2008, but climbed all the way to third in the AL (seventh overall) in 2009 thanks in large part to the arrival of defense-first shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus and late-blooming all-around right-field talent Nelson Cruz, and massive improvement in the field by star second baseman Ian Kinsler (who currently on the DL with a sprained ankle). This year, they’re mixing in speedy center fielder Julio Borbon, which has the added advantage of pushing Josh Hamilton to left field, thus giving the Rangers an above-average defender in all three pastures. Chris Davis, a repurposed third baseman, is also capable of athletic play  at first base and could soon be pushed by top prospect Justin Smoak, who is considered even better afield, and though Michael Young has long been a liability in the field (his 2008 Gold Glove was completely undeserved), his having a year of experience at third base under his belt can only help his play at the hot corner. They’ve done it quietly, but the Rangers have added their names to the rapidly expanding list of American League teams that have greatly improved themselves by using the rising tide of their defense to lift their pitching boats.
That’s good, because for all of the pitching talent the Rangers have in their system, they’re still a season or two away from reaping their fruits. Top prospects Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz reached the majors last year, but lefty Holland has opened 2010 back in Triple-A, and fireballing Feliz, a starting prospect, is still biding his time in the bullpen (though two early blown saves by Frank Francisco have already moved him into the closer’s job). The next arm on the list, Venezuelan lefty Martin Perez, is a 19-year-old trying to find his feet in Double-A.
In the meantime, with Holland back in the minors, Feliz in the pen, and middling home grown arms such as Tommy Hunter and Eric Hurley on the disabled list, the major league rotation continues to be patchwork. Scott Feldman and Matt Harrision (the latter of whom came over from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira trade along with Feliz, Andrus, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is also on the DL) are in their proper spots, but the Rangers had to turn to free agency, Japan, and their own bullpen to fill the other three.
Lefty C.J. Wilson, who faces CC Sabathia tonight, posted a 6.02 ERA as the team’s closer in 2008, dominated as a set-up man/replacement closer last year, and enters this season having made just six major league starts, all in his rookie year of 2005. He has strike-out stuff and dominated the Blue Jays in his first start, but missed his last due to illness and could wear down as the season progresses given that he’s never thrown more than 74 innings in a major league season. Colby Lewis, who took Wilson’s turn on Wednesday, was a first-supplemental round pick by the Rangers in 1999, but passed through four other organizations and then spent two years pitching in Japan before making a surprise return to the Texas rotation this April.
Finally, there’s Rich Harden, the former A’s prospect who signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal to be the Rangers’ default ace this year. Harden, who will face Andy Pettitte on Sunday, has true number-one stuff, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to throw 150 big league innings in a single season since 2004. Given that he is being charged with replacing the 198 2/3 innings and 3.67 ERA the team got from Kevin Millwood in 2009, Harden is actually something of a downgrade, despite his talent.
There are enough question marks in the Rangers’ rotation that the team will have to continue to rely on its gloves and bats to compete in the American League West. Texas has the every-day players to get away with that, but there are questions there as well. Will Josh Hamilton stay healthy? Is Vlad Guerrero finished? Can Chris Davis (who struck out 150 times in 113 games last year while posting a .284 on-base percentage) make contact and get on base, and if not how soon will Smoak be ready? How much will Michael Young regress from his huge 2009 season? Can Nelson Cruz repeat his breakout ’09 season at age 29? How will Kinsler’s ankle recover, and how quickly? What will Julio Borbon contribute from the leadoff spot? Will any of the catching prospects hit?
Though the season is just nine games old, the Rangers have thus far shown more ability to keep runs off the board than to put them on it. That’s a nice change of pace for the franchise, but it won’t bring them the division which, with the Angels having slipped a bit on their perch, is within their reach for the first time since the last millennium.
2009 Record: 87-75 (.537)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 85-77 (.525)
Manager: Ron Washington
General Manager: Jon Daniels
Home Ballpark: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-100, LH HR-117
RH Avg-107, RH HR-110
Who’s Replacing Whom:
1B – Chris Davis (L)
2B – Joaquin Arias (R)
SS – Elvis Andrus (R)
3B – Michael Young (R)
C – Taylor Teagarden (R)
RF – Nelson Cruz (RF)
CF – Julio Borbon (L)
LF – Josh Hamilton (L)
DH – Vladimir Guerrero (R)
L – David Murphy (OF)
R – Ryan Garko (1B)
S – Andrew Blanco (IF)
R – Matt Treanor (C)
R – Scott Feldman
R – Rich Harden
L – C.J. Wilson
R – Colby Lewis
L – Matt Harrison
R – Neftali Feliz
R – Frank Francisco
R – Darren O’Day
L – Darren Oliver
R – Chris Ray
R – Doug Mathis
R – Dustin Nippert
L – Julio Borbon (CF)
R – Michael Young (3B)
L – Josh Hamilton (LF)
R – Vladimir Guerrero (DH)
R – Nelson Cruz (RF)
R – Chris Davis (1B)
R – Joaquin Arias (2B)
R – Taylor Teagarden (C)
R – Elvis Andrus
2B – Ian Kinsler (sprained right ankle)
C – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (back and shoulder stiffness)
RHP – Tommy Hunter (left oblique strain)
RHP – Warner Madrigal (forearm tightness)
RHP – Eric Hurley (torn rotator cuff)
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