A brief look at an opponent we play this week.
Dates we play them: 4/27-4/29 @ Texas, 6/1-6/3 at home, 7/2-7/4 @ Texas
Offense: A potential starting lineup: Elvis Andrus-SS, Michael Young-3B, Josh Hamilton-LF, Vladimir Guerrero-DH, Nelson Cruz-RF, Justin Smoak-1B, Matt Treanor/Taylor Teagarden-C, Andres Blanco-2B, Julio Borbon-CF. Bench: David Murphy-OF, Ryan Garko-1B, Joaquin Arias-MI.
Last year's RotY runner-up, Elvis Andrus is batting leadoff because of Julio Borbon's early season struggles. Andrus is off to a great start, fueled partially by an unsustainable high BABIP (currently .390) and a greatly improved BB% (18.7%). Both of these will regress, but it would be nice to think Elvis learned how to take a walk. If he can post a league-average OBP combined with his stellar defense and speed, he'll be a 4-5 WAR player annually. The scary part is he's still only 21. Michael Young responded very well to his transition to third base last season. He managed a 3.9 WAR season, which happens to be the highest of his career. His defense at the hot corner is, in a word, bad. He can still hit though, and as long as he can do that his contract won't reach the Alfonso Soriano level of albatrossity. Josh Hamilton, the feel good story of the 2008 season, came crashing back to Earth last year. This was partly due to missing six weeks with an abdominal tear. ZiPS is somewhat bullish on him this year, except in one regard: plate appearances. Banking on Hamilton to stay healthy is even riskier than assuming Carlos Quentin will do the same. The move out of center and to left should help, but its going to take some luck for Josh to hit 30+ again. And here's hoping he can stay clean. He's a good story and it would suck to see him lose it all. Continuing their recent tradition of signing formerly great National League outfielders, the Rangers wnet out and got Vladimir Guerrero this offseason. Vlad is looking a bit like his old Montreal self, hitting .364 with two homers and three steals. It won't last, but DHing should keep him healthy enough hit around .310-.320 with about 20 homeruns. Nelson Cruz has been destroying everything in his path so far, already earning 1.7 WAR. In 18 freaking games. Not bad for a guy who was DFA'd two years ago. Is he going to keep it up? No. But he will be better than he was last year. He already has just under a quarter of his homerun total last year and five stolen bases, though three of those came in the amazing game where the Rangers stole nine against the Red Sox last week.
Justin Smoak has finally made it to the majors. Being white, a switch-hitter, and playing in the South, Smoak has drawn the inevitable comparisons to Mark Teixeria and Chipper Jones. Not bad company right? Justin is supposed to be a plus defender and recorded his first major league hit yesterday, a double of off Jeremy Bonderman. The current catcher platoon in Texas is a good reminder that prospects don't always pan out like they are expected to. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden have not hit like Ron Washington and so many Texans had hoped for, allowing Matt Treanor to see some action at the backstop. Prior to this, Matt Treanor was best known as a back-up catcher that somehow managed to marry Misty May. ZiPS has little optimism for any of the three, with only Salty potentially having a wOBA above .300. Andres Blanco is manning second until Ian Kinsler returns from his sprained ankle. Kinsler is like Chris Getz in the fact that he is made of the finest porcelain. He is different from Getz in the aspect that he is very good at baseball. But back to Andres. Blanco is decent as a utility man, but doesn't really do anything well enough to be a starter. Julio Borbon is having a miserable April. The Opening Day leadoff man has only managed a .414 OPS so far, thanks to a 1.8 BB% and a .213 BABIP. He's still running well (4 SB), but as the cliche goes you can't steal first. He is good in center, so when the hits start falling he'll be a worthwhile player again.
Pitching: A potential rotation and closer: Scott Feldman-RHP, Rich Harden-RHP, C.J. Wilson-LHP, Colby Lewis-RHP, Matt Harrison-LHP, and Neftali Feliz-RHP.
Feldman enjoyed a nice breakout season last year, thanks in large part to the development of a ridiculously good cutter (25.9 wCT!). He keeps the ball down, which is smart for a Rangers' pitcher. He has a chance at pitching 200 innings. He throws a sinker, a low-90s fastball, the aforementioned cutter of doom, a curveball, and a changeup. Rich Harden has simply been shitting the bed this season, as evidenced by his 9.17 B/9 and 6.49 xFIP. Add in the fact that his fastball isn't cracking 90 mph and that its Rich Harden and there seems to be an obvious answer: HE'S HURT DUMMY! Sorry about that, but seriously, something has to be wrong with him. Hitters are taking him to the sky (583% fly ball rate) and those balls are dropping (.319 BABIP). These numbers will regress, but with Harden you only get about 140 innings a season and you expect them to be better than this. One of our favorite Rangers nemeses, C.J. Wilson has been converted to a starter this season. Results have been pretty good for the Taoist, as he's struck out 16 and currently has a 2.82 FIP. Its hard to say how the rest of the season will go for him, as he was always a reliever since being called up. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a cutter, a changeup, and a slider. All can be plus pitches, but his fastball is his best. He also used to be active on SBN, until he said something he shouldn't have. Colby Lewis has returned to the U.S. after a two year stint in Japan. He absolutely dominated the Central League, striking out 375 hitters in 354.1 innings. Obviously, hopes are a little high for him this year. He's been solid so far, relying heavily on his low-90s fastball and powerful slider. Matt Harrison is essentially keeping the back end of the rotation warm for when Derek Holland is called up or Ron Washington/Jon Daniels realize Neftali Feliz is more valuable as a starter than a closer. That being said, he is mainly a fastball, slider, changeup guy, occasionally mixing in a curve. Neftali Feliz is closing because Frank Francisco throws chairs better than he throws baseballs. Hopefully Neftali is just going biding his time in the bullpen like Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland did back in the day and is not on his way to becoming Joba Chamberlain. His fastball is in the upper-90s and reaches triple digits. His changeup is sometimes faster than other pitchers' fastballs (87.4 mph). He also throws a nice curveball, and can use all three of his pitches very well.
Outlook: The Rangers are a good team that are off to a bad start due to an injury, lack of productive hitting from half the team, and the guy who should be their ace under-performing. They also have an 8-11 record. That's right, other than the Ian Kinsler injury, they appear to be our doppelganger. Lucky for us though, we catch them before Ian comes back for now. Season prediction: 6-3, we're hot right now and I'm liking it. Oh, and Lone Star Ball is fantastic. Read it. Like as soon as you're done here.