AL champion Rangers facing hurdles in repeat bid
The shiny championship rings Texas players are still in boxes.
There have been a lot of spiffy improvements to Rangers Ballpark,
too, since their first World Series.
Yet, there is already plenty to tarnish the expectations for the
Rangers less than six months after winning their first American
Just like the days when the Rangers were still also-rans in the
AL West, there seem to be growing concerns about pitching despite
plenty of big bats.
All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre has been added to a lineup
so stacked that Rangers career hits leader Michael Young has been
pushed into the role of the primary designated hitter and dropped
to sixth in the batting order. Josh Hamilton is coming off an AL
MVP season when he led the majors hitting .359, along with 32 home
runs and 100 RBIs.
But ace left-hander Cliff Lee decided not to stay despite a $138
million, six-year offer and instead returned to Philadelphia,
another team he has pitched for in the World Series.
And soon after settling on their Lee-less rotation, and deciding
to keep hard-throwing Neftali Feliz in the bullpen, Tommy Hunter
strained his right groin, Derek Holland had a horrible outing and
C.J. Wilson went only two innings his final Arizona start because
of tightness in his left hamstring.
Wilson, the crafty left-hander who won 15 games last season
after making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, did
throw some more pitches on the side after coming out Saturday and
still plans to start the season opener at home Friday against
But while the weekend will include the debut of the ballpark
upgrades and handing out those rings to fifth-year manager Ron
Washington and his players, it marks the beginning of the Rangers’
bid to return to the World Series.
”We know what it takes to get there now, and we need to win
three more games, that’s it,” said, Lewis 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in
four postseason starts after 12 regular-season wins in his return
from Japan. ”That was the big deal, we know what it takes, we know
what type of grind it is.”
The Rangers had never won a postseason series, or even a home
playoff game, before last season – the 50th in the history of the
franchise that started as the expansion Washington Senators in
”It’s a confidence builder. We’ve always felt like we could do
it,” Hamilton said. ”We just got to the point where the pitching
stepped up, and our defense and our hitting kind of all worked
together at the same time.”
Ian Kinsler has returned to the leadoff spot after a career-best
.382 on-pace percentage last year while hitting in five different
spots in the order. Elvis Andrus is hitting second, setting up
Hamilton, Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Young, the longest-tenured Ranger
who had requested a trade but seems content now to begin his 11th
season in Texas.
”I think because we lost the World Series, it motivated
everybody to be better,” said Cruz, who hit .318 with 22 homers
last season even while missing 51 games with hamstring
While Lee was the big midseason acquisition last season, the
Rangers already had a 5 1/2-game lead in the AL West that was the
largest in any of baseball’s six divisions when he arrived from
Seattle. They had taken over first place for good June 8, a day
after losing to Lee.
Lee won the clinching game in the AL division series, but lost
both of his World Series starts, including the Game 5 clincher for
San Francisco exactly five months before Friday’s 2011 opener.
Hunter, 13-4 last season, will open the season on the disabled
list instead of in the rotation for the third straight year.
The decision has already been made on Feliz, and he’s staying as
the closer after setting a major league rookie record with 40 saves
last season. Feliz was stretched out this spring and showed that he
could be a starter, but other relievers struggled so badly this
spring that he remains more valuable in the back-end of the
Reliever Alexi Ogando could fill in as the No. 5 starter for
now, but Texas looks forward to potential help from former NL Cy
Young Award winner Brandon Webb, who is trying to make a comeback
from shoulder surgery that has kept him out since the 2009 season
opener for Arizona. Webb won’t be ready for the start of the
season, but made progress this spring.
Too bad Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan isn’t an option.
While Ryan is long gone from the mound, there is no question
about who is running the Rangers front office.
Ryan, the Rangers’ president since 2008, added the title of CEO
earlier this month after the surprising departure of managing
partner Chuck Greenberg from the team.
Greenberg had been the public face with Ryan of the investment
group that finally acquired the team during an auction last August
after a dramatic bankruptcy court showdown. The team then went to
its first World Series, but Greenberg was gone seven months later
because of growing differences between he, Ryan and board
co-chairmen Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, the team’s two biggest