Spring training has come to a close and the Texas Rangers are taking aim at finishing a job they came within inches of finishing last October.
In 2011, the Rangers roared through the regular season, posting a franchise best 96 wins and winning the American League West by a monstrous 10 games. After a bumpy start to the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rangers turned it around, taking the series in four games. They rolled through the Tigers in the American League Championship Series and returned to the World Series for a second consecutive season. After a titillating series with the Cardinals in the Fall Classic, the Rangers found themselves a single strike away from taking the throne on two separate occasions, before conceding the series in the seventh game in heart-wrenching fashion.
Now, the Rangers open 2012 hoping to finish the job once and for all.
It’s mostly familiar faces returning for the Rangers, but a busy winter has lead to a few changes heading into the new campaign. Texas returns everyone from the most potent lineup in all of baseball a season ago, but there is a new face in the rotation. 2011 opening day starter and All-Star pitcher C.J. Wilson went Benedict Arnold on the Rangers in the offseason, inking a five-year deal with the rival Angels and leaving a big void in the pitching staff. In his place steps Japanese phenom Yu Darvish, who at the ripe age of 25 has more accolades to his name than most American pitchers will see in a career.
Darvish did not come cheap, as the Rangers had to post $51 million just for the right to negotiate with the 6-foot-5 right-hander. After a month of negotiating, the Rangers finally signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal in hopes of his past success translating abroad.
Darvish was not the only impactful pitcher the Rangers signed in the offseason. After blowing the save in game six of the World Series, the Rangers decided it was time for closer Neftali Feliz to try his hand in the starting rotation. His replacement is former Twins closer Joe Nathan, who comes to Arlington with a career 89 percent save percentage, good for second all-time in the history of baseball. Nathan was robbed of his 2010 season with Tommy John surgery, and had a lackluster return in the first half of 2011. The second half was more telling as Nathan returned to form, and the Rangers are hoping he can reclaim his perch atop the closing elite.
The Rangers enter the new season as a favorite to return to the World Series again, but the path to the top got a bit murkier since baseball last convened. The Tigers added slugger Prince Fielder to their deep lineup. The Angels added arguably the best hitter in the game in Albert Pujols, along with the aforementioned Wilson to a rotation that was already considered one of the best in baseball.
Everyone in baseball knows the Rangers are going to slug with the best of ’em. If Darvish can fill the void left by Wilson and Derek Holland can continue his emergence as a frontline starter, the Rangers will be in fine shape to make another deep postseason run.
Printed on Thursday, April 5, 2012 as: Rangers reloading, seeking first title