By Hunter Holdridge
With opening day now in the books everybody can settle down and enjoy America’s favorite past time! Leave it to Texas to start opening day off with one of the most bizarre wins in baseball history.
All it took was one bloop single by Fielder accompanied by walks and errors for the Rangers to escape with the (3-2) win. Now that history was made lets focus on the upcoming season with some predictions, key players, and what to expect this season.
Looking over the roster and stats this team on paper looks to be the part of an AL West crown in 2016. Once Darvish returns (mid-May) this rotation will be downright filthy. Hamels and Darvish headline the group along that includes veteran Colby Lewis and healthy players ready to break through in Martin Perez and Derek Holland.
The 5th starter won’t be such an issue, as Texas could fill the role in a variety of ways. It could go with a young gun in Chi Chi Gonzalez or with a new face in veteran AJ Griffin. If this rotation can stay healthy this season it will be the strength of the ball club. What started out being a weak spot last season turned into a strength down the stretch.
Now the bullpen picks up where it left off and looks to be just as dominant as it was in the 2nd half of 2015. As I stated last season the Hamels trade was better than people realized because of the secondary piece the Rangers received in Jake Diekman. If Jake can prove he can get outs like he did last season this pen will be one of the best in league. Not too many ball clubs (outside of Kansas City) has this many hard throwers out of the pen that makes batters miss and miss often. Pitching wins championships and that’s exactly why I believe the Rangers take the AL West crown again in 2016.
A few things stand out to me looking over the lineup.
1. This lineup has potential to be extremely versatile again in 2016 with a combo of speed and power.
2. Only 2 weak spots in the entire order (Catcher/ Andrus).
3. While it looks to be a stout offensive lineup, the defense could be very suspect and cause some issues this season. If Beltre struggles, who steps up and protects Fielder?
What a find DeShields was a year ago! He may not jump off the stat sheet, but the man always finds a way to get on base (.344 OBP) and create havoc on the bases (25 steals). If there’s one player on this team that can jump start a sluggish offense he would be my choice! In order for the Rangers to be successful this year at the plate Fielder has to produce and guys like Beltre and Moreland need to provide that veteran presence and come through in clutch situations. I do like the new addition in Ian Desmond but learning a new position in left field might be cause for concern defensively.
What could the Achilles heel for Texas in 2016?
1. Defense! The Rangers struggled in that department a year ago and it could have the potential to get worse. Guys like Desmond learning a new position or DeShields just not a great defensive player could become liabilities along with Choo in the outfield. The problems aren’t just in the outfield even though that’s where I see the biggest problem, the infield may have a few concerns with a learning curve with Odor and Andrus not living up to his potential. For the Rangers to be stout in the infield Andrus has to cut out the errors on routine and play better defensively hands down (22 errors in 2015). The Rangers were 28th last season in total defense with 119 errors and a measly .981 fielding %. Can anyone remember a reason why the Rangers blew leads twice last season in the playoffs? Errors and defense!
2. Can the lineup produce enough when the defense and/or pitching have off games? At times last season the Rangers really struggled in situational hitting and failed to produce on a consistent basis when needed. That has to change this season or the defense deficiencies may rear its ugly head and they won’t recover from the mistakes.
3. Can Beltre and Fielder produce and provide that stability in the middle of the lineup? I’m more concerned with Beltre because of his age and wear on his body. If Beltre can stay healthy this season and give the lineup a stable bat then this team becomes a very good offensive unit.
4. Catcher! The Rangers in my opinion still haven’t addressed the catching position and hasn’t had a balanced all-star catcher since Mike Napoli and before that the legend Pudge Rodriguez. Chirinos and newly acquired Bryan Holaday will be formidable but nothing to get excited about. At some point this year or next the Rangers front office will need to address the catcher position in either trade or from internally.
What will Josh Hamilton bring to the table this season? I don’t expect much but if he could give the Rangers some production off the bench that provides just another weapon Banister can go to.
Will Darvish return to form? Can rookies Gallo and Mazara break through and become valuable assets? What does Daniels do at the trade deadline this season? These are all major wildcards for the 2016 season and it will be interesting to see how there answered…
–After reviewing the schedule, the AL West, and basing the season from a paper standpoint I still predict the Rangers take the AL West crown.
Prediction: The ZIPS’ AL West projections are the Astros with an (86-76) record and a 58.7% chance to make the playoffs. The Rangers are right behind them with an (83-79) record and a 36.8% chance to make the playoffs. I don’t quite agree with those numbers but I do think it’s in the ballpark of expectations. I have the Rangers edging the Mariners for the crown with the Astros right there until the end.
**I project the Rangers to finish with a record of (88-74) and win the West for the 2nd straight year. Now it wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t win the crown, but I still say their chance of a playoff berth is better than the 36% chance the ZIPS projections give.
Let’s have a great season and GO RANGERS!
By Hunter Holdridge