It is still shocking that the 91-71 Texas Rangers were left out of the playoffs last year. After nearly a season of dominance in which they looked like the best team in baseball, they succumbed to a red hot Oakland A’s team that overcame a five game lead by the Rangers in the last few weeks of the season.
The Rangers not only lost the division crown, but also a playoff berth when they lost a one game playoff with the Baltimore Orioles for the wild card spot.
The Rangers will have to find a new way to win this year as the team is lacking a few of its offensive stalwarts, including its big star, Josh Hamilton, who signed a massive contract to play for the division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and slugging catcher Mike Napoli, who signed with the Boston Red Sox.
This year’s team must, surprisingly, win with its strong pitching. The Rangers boast an incredibly deep starting rotation, anchored by Yu Darvish, who had a 16-9 record and a 3.90 ERA in his first season in the United States. The bullpen is also strong, and closer Joe Nathan will still most likely be one of the best in baseball. Arlington is certainly a hitter’s park and the summer heat of Texas tends to wear out pitchers as the season progresses, but this may be the best pitching team the Rangers have had in their entire history.
Another major addition for this team could be phenom shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar, who will start off the year in the minor leagues, but could make a huge impact when called up. Profar is a 5-tool player with both stellar defensive skills and a strong bat. He can hit with a little power too. When Profar comes up it could provoke a trade of one of the Ranger’s infielders, like shortstop Elvis Andrus. Regardless, the Rangers will have a potent infield, with Andrus, Adrian Beltre playing Gold Glove caliber third base.
It will be hard for the Rangers to replace Hamilton, although they brought in the aging and infirm slugger Lance Berkman to do so. Berkman had a .301 average and hit 31 home runs in his last healthy year with the Cardinal in 2011, but last year he was out for most of the season with a variety of injuries.
The Rangers don’t have the awe-inspiring offense of years past, but they will still most likely have one of the league’s best. This team is incredibly talented and certainly has the ability to take the division. The challenge for the 2013 Rangers won’t be the need to overcome a lack of talent, it will be to forget the end of 2012.