The Texas Rangers must avoid the World Series hangover if they hope to meet their ultimate goal for the 2011 season.
Texas won the AL West with a 90-72 record last year before shocking AL East big boys Tampa Bay (3-2) and the NY Yankees (4-2) for its first World Series appearance in franchise history.
The dream season under manager Ron Washington ended after getting upset (4-1) by San Francisco, but it was still wildly successful overall.
The Rangers have several question marks about their squad and history is not on their side. The last team to win the World Series after losing in the Fall Classic the year before was the 1989 Oakland A’s.
Online sports books like BetUs.com are mixed about the Rangers’ chances. They’re the minus 110 favorite to win the AL West. That’s ahead of the L.A. Angels (plus 200), Oakland A’s (plus 300) and Seattle Mariners (plus 1400).
Texas’ pennant odds (plus 800) only trail Boston (plus 175) and the Yankees (plus 275), although by a significant margin. The World Series odds are at plus 1600.
The big offseason news was the departure of ace Cliff Lee. He came over from Seattle in July and was lights-out in the first two playoff series (3-0, .75 ERA) before coming back to Earth against San Fran (0-2, 6.95 ERA).
President Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels made Lee a long-term, lucrative offer, but he spurned both the Rangers and Yankees to return to Philadelphia and the National League.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux is now picking up the pieces and forced to move everyone else up in the rotation. C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35 ERA) and Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA) are at the top, and Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73 ERA) will have a spot if he stays healthy.
The intriguing Brandon Webb was signed as a free agent, but the former Arizona Cy Young award winner has missed almost the last two years (shoulder).
The big specter hanging over the staff is closer Neftali Feliz. He will be stretched out in spring training along with reliever Alexi Ogando, with one of them possibly joining the rotation. The loss of Feliz (40 saves, 2.73 ERA) could be catastrophic to the pen, especially with Frank Francisco traded, so look for him to stay put.
Texas’ relievers had the second best ERA (3.38) in the AL last year, with the staff tied for third as a whole (3.93). Maddux will need to pull some tricks out of his bag to match those numbers.
Texas’ offense was fourth in the AL last year in runs scored (787), but could have trouble keeping that pace. The big question is what happens with Michael Young, who got displaced from third base by free agent Adrian Beltre. Beltre had a great 2010 with Boston (102 RBIs, .919 OPS), but can he duplicate it in a non contract year?
Young was expected to DH with Vladimir Guerrero (115 RBIs) gone to Baltimore, but the long-time Ranger is unhappy with that role and will likely be traded. Texas still has three marquee offensive players in outfielders Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, plus second baseman Ian Kinsler, but they averaged just 115 games last year.
There are some other valuable offensive pieces like first baseman Mitch Moreland. David Murphy and the newly acquired Mike Napoli can both DH if Young leaves. However, the team should think about keeping him as he can also serve in a super-utility role.
The Rangers finished last year at minus 5.7 moneyline units. Those losses came almost exclusively on the road (minus 5.5 units).
Texas’ stats as a favorite (minus 8.6 units) were offset some as a ‘dog (plus 2.9 units).
The ‘under’ (80-74-8) had a slight advantage overall for the Rangers last year. It was much more prevalent away (44-35-2) as their offense scored about a run less there than at home (4.41 vs. 5.31 per game).
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