Texas Rangers 2010 preview

For the first time since 2004 and just the second time since 1999, the Rangers finished with a winning record last season. But despite being in first place as late as July 10, they still finished 10 games behind the first-place Angels. As is usually the case, pitching, namely the starters, will make or break this team’s chances. After a down year offensively and the loss of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, Texas can’t rely on its bats to deliver 10-8 wins.

Josh Hamilton's health will be a key question for the Rangers.
Josh Hamilton’s health will be a key question for the Rangers.

Three questions

1. Can Josh Hamilton stay healthy?
In his breakout season in 2008, Hamilton hit .304 with 32 homers and an AL-best 130 RBIs in 156 games. Plagued by back, rib and abdominal injuries last season, Hamilton was limited to 89 games and finished with a .268-10-54 stat line. Though not entirely because of Hamilton’s absence, the Rangers went from being the majors’ highest-scoring team in ’08 (901 runs) to the 10th highest-scoring team (784 runs) in ’09.

This spring, Hamilton missed a good chunk of time because of a shoulder injury. Shortly after returning from that injury Monday, he was hit on the left hand by a pitch. The move from center field to left field should mean less wear and tear, but there is an outfield wall to crash into in left field, too. With an unproven rotation, the Rangers need more production from their offense — something that won’t be possible if their best hitter spends more time on the disabled list than at the plate.

2. Will the rotation be good enough?
Team president Nolan Ryan followed through on his promise to toughen up his starters last season. In 2008, the Rangers’ rotation finished 29th in the majors with a 5.51 ERA and last with 869 1/3 innings pitched. Last season, they improved to 18th in ERA (4.61) and 17th in innings pitched. However, No. 1 starter and workhorse Kevin Millwood, who led the group with 198 2/3 innings pitched last season, was traded to Baltimore.

What’s left is a young and unproven bunch. Seventeen-game winner Scott Feldman broke through in ’09 but had only seven career wins before last season. Offseason acquisition Rich Harden is a veteran No. 2, but he hardly displays the durability Ryan desires. Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter, both 23, were rookies last season, and Colby Lewis pitched in Japan the past two seasons. Among the other candidates is C.J. Wilson, who is hoping to move from the bullpen to the rotation. "If I (struggle) as a starter, then I go right back to doing what I did," he said.

3. How much does Vladimir Guerrero have left?
After years of being abused by Vlad, the Rangers are relieved to have him on their side. In 50 career games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Guerrero has a .394 average, 14 homers and 33 RBIs. Against the Rangers, he hit .396 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs in 102 games. However, much of that production came before he began to break down physically. Because he should serve exclusively as a DH, Guerrero’s chances of staying healthy improve. In a strong lineup and hitter-friendly park, he should approach his numbers from 2008 (.303-27-91).

Projected lineup
1. CF Julio Borbon: 19 SBs, 30 runs, 20 RBIs in 46 games in ’09.
2. 3B Michael Young: .411 OBP at home last season; .337 on road.
3. LF Josh Hamilton: .239 AVG vs. righthanders in ’09; .327 vs. lefties.
4. DH Vladimir Guerrero: Failed to hit 25 HRs for first time since ’97.
5. 2B Ian Kinsler: Career-best 31 HRs last season; career-worst .253 AVG.
6. RF Nelson Cruz: 53 RBIs in first half; 23 after break.
7. 1B Chris Davis: 150 K’s, 24 BBs in 391 at-bats in ’09.
8. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Shoulder concerns linger.
9. SS Elvis Andrus: .791 OPS at home as rookie; .620 on road.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Scott Feldman: 5-4, 4.71 ERA at home last season; 12-4, 3.56 on road.
2. RHP Rich Harden: Has reached 150 IP just once (’04).
3. RHP Colby Lewis: 6.83 ERA with Texas from 2002-04.
4. RHP Tommy Hunter: 2.95 ERA in first 12 starts; 6.28 ERA in final seven.
5. RHP Derek Holland: Allowed 26 HRs in 138 1/3 IP in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Frank Francisco: 2.28 ERA in first half; 5.82 in second half.

Grades

Offense: B. Despite the drop-off in production last season and the loss to top RBI man Marlon Byrd to free agency this past offseason, the Rangers’ lineup has the potential to be among the majors’ best. Texas must improve its on-base percentage (24th last season) and cut down on its strikeouts (third most in 2009).

Pitching: C. The rotation is young and lacks a veteran No. 1, and much will depend on Harden’s durability. However, the bullpen should be strong and deep after the addition of lefthander Darren Oliver and with the continued emergence of Neftali Feliz.

Bench: C. The arrival of Pedro Borbon and the addition of Guerrero left David Murphy without a starting gig. Murphy, who hit a career-high 17 homers last season, can play all three outfield spots. Light-hitting Esteban German is the primary reserve infield, and Taylor Teagarden is 1A at catcher. But he hit just .217 in 2009.

Manager: C. The team’s 87 wins in 2009 were its most since 2004, and it was Ron Washington’s first winning season since taking over in 2007. Washington, who prides himself on fundamentals, must coax more improvement defensively. The Rangers improved to 25th in fielding percentage from 30th in 2008 and committed 26 fewer errors, after leading the majors with 132 miscues in ’08.

Sporting News prediction: In what should be a tight race in the AL West, the Rangers should come close to their 2009 win total — but still finish third.

Coming Thursday: Mariners preview

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

For the first time since 2004 and just the second time since 1999, the Rangers finished with a winning record last season. But despite being in first place as late as July 10, they still finished 10 games behind the first-place Angels. As is usually the case, pitching, namely the starters, will make or break this team’s chances. After a down year offensively and the loss of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, Texas can’t rely on its bats to deliver 10-8 wins.

Josh Hamilton's health will be a key question for the Rangers.
Josh Hamilton’s health will be a key question for the Rangers.

Three questions

1. Can Josh Hamilton stay healthy?
In his breakout season in 2008, Hamilton hit .304 with 32 homers and an AL-best 130 RBIs in 156 games. Plagued by back, rib and abdominal injuries last season, Hamilton was limited to 89 games and finished with a .268-10-54 stat line. Though not entirely because of Hamilton’s absence, the Rangers went from being the majors’ highest-scoring team in ’08 (901 runs) to the 10th highest-scoring team (784 runs) in ’09.

This spring, Hamilton missed a good chunk of time because of a shoulder injury. Shortly after returning from that injury Monday, he was hit on the left hand by a pitch. The move from center field to left field should mean less wear and tear, but there is an outfield wall to crash into in left field, too. With an unproven rotation, the Rangers need more production from their offense — something that won’t be possible if their best hitter spends more time on the disabled list than at the plate.

2. Will the rotation be good enough?
Team president Nolan Ryan followed through on his promise to toughen up his starters last season. In 2008, the Rangers’ rotation finished 29th in the majors with a 5.51 ERA and last with 869 1/3 innings pitched. Last season, they improved to 18th in ERA (4.61) and 17th in innings pitched. However, No. 1 starter and workhorse Kevin Millwood, who led the group with 198 2/3 innings pitched last season, was traded to Baltimore.

What’s left is a young and unproven bunch. Seventeen-game winner Scott Feldman broke through in ’09 but had only seven career wins before last season. Offseason acquisition Rich Harden is a veteran No. 2, but he hardly displays the durability Ryan desires. Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter, both 23, were rookies last season, and Colby Lewis pitched in Japan the past two seasons. Among the other candidates is C.J. Wilson, who is hoping to move from the bullpen to the rotation. "If I (struggle) as a starter, then I go right back to doing what I did," he said.

3. How much does Vladimir Guerrero have left?
After years of being abused by Vlad, the Rangers are relieved to have him on their side. In 50 career games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Guerrero has a .394 average, 14 homers and 33 RBIs. Against the Rangers, he hit .396 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs in 102 games. However, much of that production came before he began to break down physically. Because he should serve exclusively as a DH, Guerrero’s chances of staying healthy improve. In a strong lineup and hitter-friendly park, he should approach his numbers from 2008 (.303-27-91).

Projected lineup
1. CF Julio Borbon: 19 SBs, 30 runs, 20 RBIs in 46 games in ’09.
2. 3B Michael Young: .411 OBP at home last season; .337 on road.
3. LF Josh Hamilton: .239 AVG vs. righthanders in ’09; .327 vs. lefties.
4. DH Vladimir Guerrero: Failed to hit 25 HRs for first time since ’97.
5. 2B Ian Kinsler: Career-best 31 HRs last season; career-worst .253 AVG.
6. RF Nelson Cruz: 53 RBIs in first half; 23 after break.
7. 1B Chris Davis: 150 K’s, 24 BBs in 391 at-bats in ’09.
8. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Shoulder concerns linger.
9. SS Elvis Andrus: .791 OPS at home as rookie; .620 on road.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Scott Feldman: 5-4, 4.71 ERA at home last season; 12-4, 3.56 on road.
2. RHP Rich Harden: Has reached 150 IP just once (’04).
3. RHP Colby Lewis: 6.83 ERA with Texas from 2002-04.
4. RHP Tommy Hunter: 2.95 ERA in first 12 starts; 6.28 ERA in final seven.
5. RHP Derek Holland: Allowed 26 HRs in 138 1/3 IP in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Frank Francisco: 2.28 ERA in first half; 5.82 in second half.

Grades

Offense: B. Despite the drop-off in production last season and the loss to top RBI man Marlon Byrd to free agency this past offseason, the Rangers’ lineup has the potential to be among the majors’ best. Texas must improve its on-base percentage (24th last season) and cut down on its strikeouts (third most in 2009).

Pitching: C. The rotation is young and lacks a veteran No. 1, and much will depend on Harden’s durability. However, the bullpen should be strong and deep after the addition of lefthander Darren Oliver and with the continued emergence of Neftali Feliz.

Bench: C. The arrival of Pedro Borbon and the addition of Guerrero left David Murphy without a starting gig. Murphy, who hit a career-high 17 homers last season, can play all three outfield spots. Light-hitting Esteban German is the primary reserve infield, and Taylor Teagarden is 1A at catcher. But he hit just .217 in 2009.

Manager: C. The team’s 87 wins in 2009 were its most since 2004, and it was Ron Washington’s first winning season since taking over in 2007. Washington, who prides himself on fundamentals, must coax more improvement defensively. The Rangers improved to 25th in fielding percentage from 30th in 2008 and committed 26 fewer errors, after leading the majors with 132 miscues in ’08.

Sporting News prediction: In what should be a tight race in the AL West, the Rangers should come close to their 2009 win total — but still finish third.

Coming Thursday: Mariners preview

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

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