Weekly preview of each of the Rangers’ American League West rivals for the 2013 season – from the bottom up.
Just as it was supposed to be last year…the American League West will ultimately come down to the Rangers in Angels in 2013. The Rangers will win the AL West with some new talent (see AJP, Berkman, youngsters), better pitching and better “chemistry” (SABR guys going nuts on that). Given the Rangers Opening Day loss to the Astros last night, this may seem hard to believe, but remember, they have 161 more to redeem that loss and that game means no more than game 40, 80, 120 or 160.
With the season already underway, I thought we’d look at the top 2 spots in the division a little differently and do side-by-side comparisons… purposely glossing over the areas where the Angels are better. Not really. Look, the Angels are the consensus pick to win the division with the Rangers evening dropping a low as 3rd in many preseason predictions.
This is quickly becoming a big rivalry across the MLB landscape. Let’s not kid ourselves and put it in the same ballpark as Yankees-Red Sox, but it is getting stronger every year…and this year will only make it better as it comes down to the final week of the season.
The Angels may be better…on paper. While the “role of the underdog” is fun to take on, it’s not that far-fetched that the Rangers can win this division. Here’s how…
The Bats & Gloves
While the Rangers lineup took a hit with the departure of Josh Hamilton, you can’t say the same thing in regards to the departures of Michael Young and Mike Napoli. Sure Young was a “leader” and I won’t discount that, but given his performance from last year, he is clearly in the twilight of his career and the line-up should improve with his departure (that hurt to say). Napoli was a fan-favorite and we will miss the “NA-PO-LI” chant (sarcasm), but let’s face it – 2011 Napoli was the anomaly.
Enter Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski – names that aren’t as pretty, but still potentially very effective – mind you, both of which are also in the twilights of their careers.
Adding Josh Hamilton to the Angels lineup, behind Mike Trout, whatever bum bats second and Albert Pujols is frightening…if only for the protection that Hamilton provides based on what he is capable of.
Rangers Projected Lineup
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Elvis Andrus, SS
- Lance Berkman, DH
- Adrian Beltre, 3B
- David Murphy, LF
- Nelson Cruz, RF
- A.J. Pierzynski, C
- Mitch Moreland, 1B
- Leonys Martin, CF
Angels Projected Lineup
- Mike Trout, LF
Erick Aybar, SS
- Albert Pujols, 1B
- Josh Hamilton, RF
- Mark Trumbo, DH
- Howie Kendrick, 2B
- Alberto Callaspo, 3B
- Chris Iannetta, C
- Peter Bourjos, CF
The Angels top 5 is easily the best in baseball – can’t argue with that, but the Rangers aren’t too far off with:
- Freshly extended “Ranger-for-Life” Elvis Andrus has to take the next step in his progression as a hitter. This is the expectation and will be realized in 2013 – I’ll project a .775 OPS, which isn’t All-Star caliber at the plate, but Elvis is so much more than that.
Ian Kinsler has to be better than what we saw in 2012, which was the worst season, statistically, of his career. We saw greatness in April last year, but the rest of the season was mediocre at best. He’s still only 30 and last year was clearly the outlier when you look at his career year-over-year.
- The Rangers need something similar to the 2011 version of Lance Berkman. Big Puma is 37 now and still a lethal hitter. Players of his age don’t generally improve, but 2012 was injury-riddled, so if can produce close to his ’11 slash (.301/.412/.547), the Rangers have taken a big step towards replacing Hamilton’s production in the lineup…
Three big ifs? No, all three of these keys are more likely than not and will go a long way towards the Rangers maintaining their status as a very dangerous lineup.
Defensivily…well, we’re all cussing Kinsler right now and calling for Profar to take over at 2B and that would improve the Rangers defensively. For the Rangers, the left side of the infield is Legendary and Mitch is a superb defensive first basemen. AJ is average behind the plate and the outfield is average as well.
Between Trout and Bourjos, there won’t be too many balls dropping in left-center against the Angels and we know Hamilton is an excellent defender…when motivated. Pujols is above average at 1B and the rest of the infield and Iannetta are average. Suffice to say, the Angels aren’t built to win with defense, but they aren’t going to hinder themselves here either.
This is an area where the Rangers have an edge. An edge that could grow considerably at the trade deadline…given the recent extension for Elvis and the potential of trading away the top prospect in the game.
- Matt Harrison, LHP
- Yu Darvish, RHP
- Alexi Ogando, RHP
- Derek Holland, LHP
- Nick Tepesch, RHP (to be replaced by Colby Lewis in the near future)
This thing is going to take a on different look as the season goes on, with Darvish stepping forward as the Ace of the staff and unfortunately some unpredictable twist and/or turn.
Jered Weaver, RHP
- C.J. Wilson, LHP
- Joe Blanton, RHP
- Jason Vargas, LHP
- Tommy Hanson, RHP
Weaver is a true #1 who is capable of being dominant night in and night out. C.J. is C.J and the rest of the rotation is meh, bleh and blah.
Neither bullpen is lights out, and while many rankings out there put the Rangers ahead of the Angels in regards to the bullpen, I think they are evenly matched as they stand right now. If Neftali Feliz can return as an effective reliever, that would put the Rangers ahead. The Rangers also have more flexibility in bolstering their bullpen at the trade deadline if necessary, while the Angels depleted farm system will make it tougher for them.
Hard to argue Wash over Scioscia…so I won’t. Given my choice, I’ll take Wash. He needs to improve as a strategist and I think he will.
Why the Angels could win the West:
The addition of Hamilton’s bat in the lineup provides legit protection for Pujols and bolsters the heart of the order significantly. Put aside what you think of Josh right now and the bad taste he left in our mouths at the end of last season – he’s good, if not great and has the skill/talent to put together a MVP-caliber season.
- Mike Scioscia knows how to win…for what that’s worth. But can he manage the egos with extremely high expectations and the circus that can come with the presence of Josh.
- Outside of Hamilton, they have a few other guys that could collect some major awards at the end of the season.
- MVP – Pujols & Trout
- Cy Young Award – Weaver
Why the Rangers will win the West:
- Because I’m confident enough to underline the word “will”.
- Darvish will elevate to a Ace status in 2013. Last year was his introduction to the Major Leagues and was a major transition, not only in baseball but life for Yu. While he didn’t get better as the season went on, he finished the season on a strong note with a 3-0 record and a 2.21 ERA in Sept/Oct. It’s clear what his objective is – to become the best pitcher in the Majors. 2013 will be a big step in that direction.
- AJP and Berkman will exceed expectations. They aren’t long-term solutions, but they are both very good and will help take the edge of off the perceived blows of losing Hamilton, Young and Nap-nap.
- The Rangers are in a position to improve at the trade deadline. With hot commodities at the minor league level, they will be able to pull the trigger if necessary.
There was a problem in the clubhouse last year…call is Josh, call is whatever you want…actually, just call is Josh. The atmosphere will be improved this year with Adrian Beltre assuming the leadership role vacated by Michael Young.
It’s going to be a close race, and in the end I think the Rangers will win the division by a slim margin, but they will win the division. LAA will secure a playoff spot as a Wild Card team. If you want to hear my full predictions for the season, make sure you listen to our last podcast.