It has been a wild ride for Rangers fans in recent years. They lost 95 games in 2014 and were awful. Two years later they won 95 games to wrap up their second straight division title. They had the record they deserved in 2014, but this is a very well-run organization with a roster intentionally built, a farm system well managed, and a very good chance at adding a third straight AL West crown. This is the toughest AL West race they have faced recently, though, so they have little margin for error to hold off Seattle and especially Houston. Do they have the ability to match last year's performance?
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Rangers 2017 Projected Lineup
There is a stat from last season that stands out above all others - the Rangers had a run differential of just eight runs. That means that they scored only eight more runs than they allowed last year. It's just bizarre to win 95 games while only doing that - the Cubs, in contrast, won 103 games while leading the league with a +252 run differential, and Boston and Cleveland won their divisions with differentials of +184 and +101, respectively. It's not something that should be possible, and Texas can't count on success again if they can't get it in line. The defense has to do a big chunk of the work - only the miserable Twins and Athletics allowed more runs - but scoring more runs would be handy, too.
Ian Desmond left as a free agent, and Carlos Beltran, who was a trade deadline acquisition, had a short stay. That means that the outfield will be young - 21-year-old Nomar Mazara and 24-year-old Jurickson Profar playing regularly with veteran Carlos Gomez, with 24-year-old Delino DeShields getting plenty of time. Gomez isn't particularly consistent, and you can never be sure what you are going to get from youngsters, so the outfield is a question mark. The upside is high but far from guaranteed.
Mike Napoli is back for his third stint with the Rangers. He's 35 now, so age could be a concern, but he's coming off his best offensive year last year, so expectations are high. Expectations are also very high for two other older guys - 37-year-old Adrian Beltre and 34-year-old DH Shin-Soo Choo, who is coming off an injury-riddled year. Age is not a concern with Rougned Odor, who is just 23 and setting out to earn a big new contract, but a lack of plate discipline is. He could be even more productive than he is already if he could resist the temptation to swing at balls. Elvis Andrus is consistently productive and should stay that way. And catcher Jonathan Lucroy is a very solid producer for the position.
This isn't going to be the most exciting roster out there, but there is still plenty to like, and this roster is certainly good enough as long as they can stay healthy and age doesn't catch up to too many.
Rangers 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
Pitching has been an issue for this team - obviously. It's not so much that they don't have the talent. It's that they can't stay healthy. They had to use 11 different starters last year, and Yu Darvish, who could and should be a top-level ace, hasn't played a full season since 2013 and practically lives on the DL. Darvish and Cole Hamels are the one-two punch atop the rotation, and ideally Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner and A.J. Griffin are probably the best they have after that. All three have had injury issues, though, and Cashner has had issues already this spring. If they find themselves in a competitive spot then the Rangers may be forced to use some of their farm depth to add another pitcher. This rotation can be more than adequate, but only if Darvish stays healthy, Hamels is Hamels, and the bottom of the rotation stabilizes and produces.
The bullpen isn't flashy - Sam Dyson is a decent closer but not a superstar, and Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffress are more functional than flashy as set up guys - but it is a very adequate unit, and it should be able to fill the gaps as long as the rotation does their job.
Rangers Futures Odds
The Rangers are right in the mix for the AL West crown as they always seem to be. At +300 at BetOnline to win the division they are tied with the Mariners as the second choice behind the Astros (+125). They are tied with the Mariners and Blue Jays at +1100 to win the American League pennant, which puts them behind only the Red Sox, Indians and Astros - albeit quite a ways behind those top three. At +2500 to win the World Series they are among the viable World Series contenders as well.
The Rangers always have lots of power, but they perhaps aren't as explosive as they have been - Rougned Odor (+10000) and Adrian Beltre (+20000) are both listed as major long shots in the race for the home run crown. Beltre is also one of the longer shots on the board to win the AL MVP at +4000. The pitchers are held in higher regard, though - Yu Darvish (+900) is the third pick to win the Cy Young behind only Chris Sale and Corey Kluber, and Cole Hamels is in the mix at +2000.
Rangers 2017 Predictions
The season win total is set at 84.5. I like the "over". They won 95 last year, and while they have shifted things around on the roster, they still are at least as solid as they were last year. They may not win 95 games again - I'd bet against it - but more than 84 seems comfortably possible.
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