We finish previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season with the defending AL West champion Texas Rangers; the monthlong series concludes tomorrow with over/under picks and playoff predictions
The Rangers had a 21-win improvement last season, winning 88 games against 67 in 2014. That improvement was good enough to vault the team from last place to first place. Feeling that the team is good enough to repeat as division winners, the Rangers just made some minor moves to add to the roster, one early in the offseason and the other late. In November, they traded OF Leonys Martin and P Anthony Bass to the Mariners for a package headlined by RP Tom Wilhelmsen; in late February, the Rangers signed free-agent SS Ian Desmond to a one-year deal, but they have moved him to left field, leaving incumbent SS Elvis Andrus in the position.
The Rangers’ .257 batting average ranked as the fifth highest in the American League last season, while their 172 home runs were the seventh-most in the league and their 707 RBI ranked third in the AL. Leading the offense was DH Prince Fielder, who came back from a disappointing, injury-shortened 2014 season to hit .305, with 23 home runs and 98 RBI. 1B Mitch Moreland and OF Shin-Soo Choo showed off their power, as well, by hitting 23 and 22 home runs, respectively. Young 2B Rougned Odor came into his own in his second season in the majors, hitting 16 home runs 120 games, nearly double the 9 he hit in his rookie year. Pitching was a weakness for the Rangers, with the staff’s 4.24 ERA the third-worst in the league, with no starting pitcher in the rotation posting an ERA lower than 3.42, which belonged to SP Yovani Gallardo. At the trade deadline, the Rangers traded for SP Cole Hamels, who had a disappointing 3.66 ERA in 12 starts with the team, striking out 78 over 83.2 innings during that stretch. One reason for the high ERA was the absence of SP Yu Darvish, who missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Closer Shawn Tolleson saved 35 games in 37 opportunities, while putting up a 2.99 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. RP Keone Kela had a strong rookie season in a setup role, posting a 2.39 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 60.1 innings.
The Rangers had a good offense last season, but it could be better if they get good numbers out of Desmond, who hit just .233 with the Nationals last season, significantly below his .264 career average. If he can get on base, he will provide more opportunities for the power hitters like Fielder and 3B Adrian Beltre to drive him in. One wild card is OF Josh Hamilton, who Desmond is replacing in left field. He is expected to begin the season on the DL with a knee injury and perhaps be ready for game action in early May. There is no position for him to play, though, so he could be a dangerous bat for the Rangers to use coming off of the bench or to get spot starts when other players get a day of rest. The rotation is the part of the team that needs the most improvement, and Hamels and Darvish are going to be important in making that happen. Hamels didn’t live up to the expectations that the Rangers likely had when they traded for him, so he needs to get closer to 2014’s 2.46 ERA than 2015’s 3.65 ERA if he is going to be the top-of-the-rotation starter the Rangers thought they were going to get from him. Darvish appears to be on track for a mid-May return to action. Coming off his shoulder surgery, there’s no telling what to expect in his first couple of starts, but he’ll need to get back to his pre-surgery form to take some of the pressure off of Hamels at the top of the rotation.
The Rangers squeaked past the Astros and Angels to win the division last season, and those three teams are going to be in the race again this season. The Rangers need better pitching if they want to increase their chances of repeating as division champs. The Rangers still have the best overall team in the division, but it’s not by a lot and there’s not a lot of room for error, especially if Hamels and Darvish don’t pitch like the aces that they have been in the past.
That’ll do it for all 30 of our team previews — you can see them all here — but there’s one final post in this year’s 30 in 30ish series coming tomorrow; follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the blog to know when it’s posted.