Rangers enter season with high expectations
For nearly 40 years, Opening Day for the Texas Rangers only offered hope if you ignored reality and history. Even when the organization won the AL West three times in the 1990s, it was never a serious threat to make it past the New York Yankees.
But coming off back-to-back trips to the World Series, the Rangers have become one of baseball's superpowers. It would be considered a huge failure if the Rangers didn't make the playoffs, which speaks to the job Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels and of course Ron Washington have done.
With the Chicago White Sox and once-villain Robin Ventura in town for the season opener Friday afternoon, it's time to make some predictions. File these away for future reference – unless they turn out to be dead wrong.
How many wins will the Rangers have?
The number that I keep coming back to is 92. The problem is that it's a total that might not get it done in the AL West. The Angels now rival the Phillies in terms of having one of the best rotations in baseball. But the Rangers should still be able to produce more runs than Los Angeles. Just like last year, the key will be dominating the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners. The Angels struggled against those teams last year, which helped the Rangers in a big way.
Breakout pitcher of the year:
It would be easy to go with Yu Darvish here, so I'm not going to do it. This will be the season that Matt Harrison receives some run support and wins 17 games. If that happens, there will be less pressure on Colby Lewis and Derek Holland.
Who will hit the most home runs?
The Rangers have five legitimate candidates for this title. But I'm going to point to what happened in the postseason and say that Nellie Cruz will lead the team with 38 homers. He and Josh Hamilton will battle for the title down the stretch.
Comeback player of the year:
Let's go with first baseman Mitch Moreland. I don't think he just lucked out two years ago when he looked like a competent major league hitter. He will continue to play excellent defense, and I believe he'll hammer right-handed pitching.
Who will be the Rangers' biggest disappointment:
Hate to get too negative on Opening Day, but I believe it won't be long before Neftali Feliz is back in the bullpen. He had some shoulder stiffness in spring training as well as some concentration issues. And folks who know way more about pitching than me have been saying that Feliz's lack of a great secondary pitch will get him in trouble. How patient will the Rangers be with Feliz? We're about to find out.
Most outrageous food item:
The Rangers will unveil a $26 2-pound hot dog. Rangers president Nolan Ryan recently referred to it on local radio as a "tremendous wiener."
Biggest worry that no one's talking about:
We know that Yorvit Torrealba and Moreland will provide some versatility, but the rest of the Rangers' bench is a huge question mark. For a team that looked naked in that department during the World Series (German?), it's surprising to see such questionable depth. Perhaps Daniels will address that situation at the trade deadline.
Will the Rangers break every attendance record?
I think they will surpass the 3-million mark this season. All of Darvish's starts should be huge draws and the season-ticket sales are in good shape. A "mild" summer would also help the Rangers.
David Murphy will have a career season:
OK, I say this every year about the former Baylor star. But I really mean it this time. He worked hard on his fielding in left field and he appears to be much more confident against left-handed pitchers. Murphy's not guessing as much at the plate. It was a good sign that he worked some walks against lefties in spring training.
Hamilton will produce huge numbers in his contract year:
He craves a long-term contract. And he'll put up big enough numbers to receive that from a team other than the Rangers. The Rangers have finally made peace with allowing Hamilton to roam center field. I think he'll be on the field for 150 games this season.
How far will the Rangers go?
They won't win the AL West but will earn a wild-card spot in the playoffs. The Rays will defeat the Rangers in the ALCS. The Phillies will then win the World Series.