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October 26, 2023

Rangers look for repeat season as AL enters battle stations

The Texas Rangers celebrate after a convincing 15-5 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, October 15, 2011. The triumph returns the Rangers to the World Series for the second year in a row. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

By Ben Cowlishaw
Online Copy Editor

In 2011, the Texas Rangers proved their first World Series appearance was no fluke. They came back better than ever and were a single strike away, twice, from their first World Series title.

As the American League gets even more threatening with players like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder crossing the league barrier, the prospect of the Rangers making a third consecutive run at the title will be a tough one.

Texas Rangers 2011

The Texas Rangers celebrate after a convincing 15-5 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, October 15, 2011. The triumph returns the Rangers to the World Series for the second year in a row. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

The feeling amongst Rangers fans from the 2010 World Series to the 2011 World Series was completely different. In 2010, it was the first American League pennant ever for the Rangers.

The fact that the team had made it that far in the postseason was of huge significance. Nobody was surprised when the Rangers fell to the Giants in the 2010 World Series, four games to one. The Giants had better starting pitching and had timely hitting in the postseason. They were the better team.

However, 2011 was supposed to be a game-changing year. The Rangers were an even better team than the year before, and were going up against a team that hadn’t clinched a playoff spot until they became the wild card on the last day of the regular season.

The Rangers took Game 2 against the Cardinals in St. Louis, then Games 4 and 5 in Arlington, putting the team ahead in the World Series for the first time in history. In Game 6 in St. Louis, The Rangers, twice, were ahead by two runs in the late – then extra – innings, but couldn’t secure the win or the World Series title. Game 7, after striking early with two runs in the first inning, The Rangers let the Cardinals run away with the game 6-2 and the Red Birds’ 11th World Series championship.

The wounds from such a dramatic World Series, including a Game 6 noted by some as one of the greatest games ever played, are not yet fully healed. It will be in the back of the minds of players and fans from here on out – until The Rangers finally take home a World Series title of their own.

Texas Rangers Offseason

It has been another active offseason for the clubhouse. The Rangers won the bidding for and signed Japanese phenom pitcher Yu Darvish, a more than $100 Million investment in whom will likely turn into the next big ace in Major League Baseball.

Mirroring the previous offseason, The Rangers lost their number one starting pitcher, C.J. Wilson, to the division rival Los Angeles Angels. Albert Pujols, a name that churns the stomach of most fans across the Metroplex, is joining forces in Anaheim as well, as the Angels look to retake their claim on the American League West.

The Rangers also signed closer Joe Nathan from the Minnesota Twins, who despite having Tommy John surgery on his right arm, should be ready to take on the closer job full time.

The Rangers lineup is looking ever stronger, and with a tightening starting rotation and a more reliable bullpen, 2012 will be another season for the books.

Powerful Pitching

The young, home-grown starting pitcher Derek Holland was a major force in the Rangers’ postseason success and can potentially be an ace in the majors as he improves himself every year. The underrated Colby Lewis will likely be at the top of the rotation for the beginning of the year, at least until Darvish proves his worth.

The Rangers hope to be developing a pitching dynasty, as the club faces a problem they haven’t had in recent times – too many potential starting pitchers. Previously a closer, the hard throwing Neftali Feliz has joined the rotation. Along with Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando, the Rangers are being forced to decide whom to send to the bullpen to keep the rotation at five pitchers.

Ogando was an All-Star starting pitcher last year, but near the end of the season and in the postseason became a vital part of the bullpen. If he isn’t ready to retake his stake as a starter, he may be first to get sent back to the pen as a reliable long-relief pitcher.

The Rangers’ pen is also at a level of development unseen by the club. With Nathan is set-up pitcher Mike Adams, one of the best relief pitchers in the game who could potentially take on the job as closer if Nathan doesn’t perform.

A Busy Outfield

Along with an overloaded pitching rotation, the Rangers also have a problem in center field. Josh Hamilton has been a huge part of the team for several years. He has undoubtedly been a major force in getting the Rangers to the postseason, and he has held an important spot in the lineup as the only left-handed power hitter.

This year is a contract year for Hamilton, meaning after the season ends he becomes a free agent. He could potentially take on a huge contract with another team, and the Rangers must decide how much he is worth to the club. With his injury potential and personal issues, he is a high-risk with high-reward player. Complicating the decision, Hamilton relapsed over the offseason as he combats past drug and alcohol addictions. He comes with enormous liability, which must be weighed against his value as a player.

Right fielder Nelson Cruz also has an important bat in the lineup, and is a free agent in two years. He, like Hamilton, is injury prone and comes at a risk.

David Murphy started much of the season last year in left field and can play any outfield position, and Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry, along with prospect Engel Beltre, spent all spring pleading their case for possession of a starting position in the outfield. None have proven they can effectively replace Hamilton or Cruz’ powerful arms in the outfield and certainly not their offensive importance, but things will need to get decided quickly as the season goes on.

Continuing Contracts

The Rangers have one of the best batting lineups in the majors, and as many of the players face free agency in the next few years, it has to soon be decided what the best way is to keep the key parts of the team together. Infielder and designated hitter Michael Young, as well Hamilton, have long been figureheads of the club, but the younger players with more long-term potential may have to take priority.

In the next two years, Hamilton, Cruz, Murphy, Young, catcher and first baseman Mike Napoli and second baseman Ian Kinsler, could become free agents if the club doesn’t lock them up with a contract extension. In a perfect world, the Rangers’ current lineup would hold together for as many years as possible. But if Hamilton (or his agent) demands a huge contract, the Rangers may have to find a replacement for several of their best bats in the lineup.

The Rangers agreed to a new TV contract with Fox Sports Southwest worth over $1.5 Billion over 20 years that will start paying out after the 2014 season. That could allow some extra budgeting for players, aiding in keeping the core of the lineup together.

American League 2012

The 2012 season across the American League will be momentous, no doubt. The Rangers are adamant about finally winning the World Series after two failed attempts and the Angels are adamant about taking back what was theirs.

The Angels have one goal this season: to get back in the postseason for the first time since 2009. They acquired the big bat of Pujols, who became infamous around Arlington after his performance in the World Series (including a home run hat trick in Game 3). Ranger fans hoped that the team would never have to face him again; instead, Pujols will be making regular visits to Arlington for many years to come.

The rest of the league is aiming to take the pennant away from the West altogether. Come August and September, there will be some fierce post-season stress-level battles to be one of the five teams who will make it to October. The intensity will only go up from there, as the Yankees no longer dominate the league and more teams are viable playoff contenders than there are spots for them. The new one-game wild-card playoff is just one aspect of the postseason restructuring that will surely bring a greater intensity to October.

Cy Young Award – why it won’t come from the Angels

Wilson over the past two seasons has been one of the best pitchers in the league, and should continue as an excellent starting pitcher for the Angels. However, much like the Phillies of the National League, a pitching rotation so solid throughout will steal votes from each other.

Dan Haren and Jered Weaver accompany Wilson as potential Cy Young candidates from the Angels. Weaver would likely be the heavy favorite if the award were to come out of Anaheim, but it’ll be hard for any Angels starters to win.

Darvish could also be a potential candidate, grossly depending on how well he performs his rookie season in the majors. He is already a favorite for the Rookie of the Year award barring an embarrassing lack of performance. He very well could take more than one season to adjust, but the expectations are high for him already.

C.C. Sabathia of the Yankees has long been one of the best starting pitchers in the majors. His strikeout numbers are always high and he may very well be the best left-handed ace in baseball.

Justin Verlander was the Cy Young Award winner last year, making him an easy pick to win again. He throws hard consistently throughout the game, often giving his bullpen the night off. Not everyone can win the award more than once, as only 16 have since the award’s creation in 1956, the last being Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants. Verlander also won the league MVP award last year.

Pick – C.C. Sabathia

MVP Picks – Will it be stolen from the Rangers along with the pennant?

Pujols has made his way to the American League. Despite moving into a ballpark that is somewhat more favorable towards pitchers, he will still put up some of the best numbers in the majors. He is also joining a lineup that will likely give him more opportunities to knock in runs.

After last year’s breakout season, everyone will be watching to see if Napoli can match his numbers from his first season with Texas. The figureheads of the team, such as Hamilton or Young, might be heavier favorites for the award, but it could very well come off of another bat from the ballpark in Arlington. It is an even playing field for third baseman Adrian Beltre, Kinsler or Napoli to take a surprise lead in the voting.

Fielder is one of the top sluggers to make the move from the National to the American League over the offseason, although he found himself moving into a pitchers’ park. Not being the best news for a power hitter, he won’t be putting up his best homerun numbers. However, if the Tigers make another strong run, Fielder, third baseman Miguel Cabrera or Verlander may potentially be given MVP cred.

Pick – Albert Pujols

Postseason Predictions

As fierce as the American League is looking going into the season, it is anyone’s guess as to who we will see in October. Five teams will make it with the addition of a second wild card, and the single-game playoff for a right to the Division Series will even further enhance the drama.
Here is how I think the American League will shape up at the end of the season:

AL East – New York Yankees
AL Central – Detroit Tigers
AL West – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Wildcards – Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays

Wildcard Playoff – Rangers over Rays

This year, MLB introduced a second wild card in each league to bring the total number of postseason teams to 10. The two wildcards will duel it out in a winner-takes-all playoff game to determine who will be the fourth seed and move on to the Division Series. In a division joined by the Yankees and Red Sox, getting to the postseason seems to always work out one way or another for the Rays. In both of their playoff berths, the Rangers have defeated the Rays, and this won’t be any different. The Rays’ pitching is good, their batting is good; The Rangers’ is better.

ALDS – Rangers over Angels 3-2, Tigers over Yankees 3-1

For the first time, teams from the same division can face each other in the Division Series. Rangers-Angels would be an aggressive battle and rivalry catalyst as both look to move on to the ALCS more than anyone else.  Although the Yankees might have a deeper, more developed lineup, look for it to be held to a minimum by Verlander while Fielder and Cabrera light it up. The Tigers-Yankees series will feature both pitchers duels and slugfests.

ALCS – Rangers over Tigers, 4-3

The Rangers knocked the Tigers out of a place in the World Series last year, and not enough is different for that to change. The Rangers bats will keep the rallies going in Detroit. Starting pitchers Verlander, Matt Scherzer and Doug Fister aren’t to be reckoned with, but they shouldn’t be feared either. Darvish, Holland and the rest of the rotation along with the bullpen will keep the Tiger bats as silent as possible.

Can the Red Sox blow a season as quickly as they did last September, completely missing the postseason? Who will come out on top of the West after offseason moves? Will the spotlight come off the AL West altogether come late October?

In the 2012 American League, as everyone has their hungry eye on the same prize, rivalries will be woken and created. It’ll be a dog-eat-dog fight to the Fall Classic.

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