A brief look at this weekend's opponent.
Offense: Ian Kinsler-2B, Elvis Andrus-SS, Josh Hamilton-CF, Adrian Beltre-3B, Nelson Cruz-RF, Michael Young-DH/1B, Mike Napoli-C/1B/DH?, David Murphy-LF, Mitch Moreland-1B/OF. Bench: Craig Gentry-OF, Alberto Gonzalez-INF, Yorvit Torrealba-C.
The first series of the year is probably my least favorite to preview (hence the attempting). I've done my best to piecemeal together what the Opening Day lineup may be. Ron Washington decided back in February that Ian Kinsler would be moving back to the leadoff spot. It looks like Kinsler has a bit of Bizzaro Prince Fielder in him. During even-numbered seasons, Ian seems to hit for a higher average. That's good news for the Rangers. Kinsler is the AL's second-best second baseman. Expect another 20-20 season with great defense. And Kevin Youkilis frequently wishes him a "Happy Passover". Want to know something terrifying? Elvis Andrus is only 23 years old. He's my age and has been in the majors full-time for three years now. Meanwhile, I have spent each of those years attempting to come up with another semi-clever link to use about him. The wit may be running out. Andrus may be the only shortstop in the AL who can actually compete defensively with Alexei Ramirez. Andrus has single-digit homerun power and thirty plus stolen bases speed. Josh Hamilton is entering what might be his final season in Arlington. This makes it even less surprising that Washington has decided to play him in center all year. The soon-to-be 31 year old hasn't played more than 133 games in a season since our White Sox last made the playoffs. He's a better defender in left than center, but there is something pretty nice about getting a .370+ wOBA from your center fielder. Adrian Beltre's first season with the Rangers was pretty successful, despite being a step down from his monster 2010 season. It's weird to think that Beltre may one day be in the Hall of Fame. His defense is still fantastic and if he doesn't completely fall off the cliff during the next few years he has a decent chance of following Scott Rolen to Cooperstown. As so often happens with aging players, he's striking out less and less each year. I'm hoping he can get even lower than last year's 53, though I wonder if even Jacques Costeau could ever get that low.
I'm going to be a little bummed out if Nelson Cruz winds up separated from his health twin Josh Hamilton. He may have the most raw power out of any right fielder in baseball, but his legs are held together by pipe cleaners and expired Juicy Fruit (seriously, go look at his injury history). You have to think that his lack of hamstrings will hamstring his running game. I'll show myself out. For some reason, it's been announced that Michael Young is hitting sixth. It's not that the franchise leader in hits isn't good. I'd just rather have Mike Napoli get more at bats. Young still has gap power, but his 20+ homerun days are over. He's bad everywhere on defense. Mike Napoli managed to make two GMs and one manager look like complete idiots last year (that's right, Alex Anthopolous is not infallible). The former victim of Mike Scioscia's wrath had his breakout season in 2011, hitting 30 homeruns with an OPS of 1.046. He's gotten better at throwing out runners and is improving his game all around. Expect some slight regression from the victim of C.J. Wilson's shitty sense of humor. When he's not behind the plate, expect Yorvit Torrealba to catch. David Murphy is more or less filler. He can always hang his hat on the fact that he was traded for Eric Gagne just before that completely stopped being something impressive. I mean, it's not like he's bad. He'll be worth somewhere between 1-2 WAR, but he is going to be one of those players you completely forget existed when you're taking an Opening Day lineup quiz on Sporcle (Craig Wilson, anyone?). Mitch Moreland must feel awesome and awful simultaneously. All winter he had to deal with rumors about Prince Fielder taking his job from him. Looks like he just has to tolerate the pressure the fans will put on him now that the team's main rival signed Albert Pujols. Moreland is another average major leaguer.
Pitching: Colby Lewis-RHP, Derek Holland-LHP, Matt Harrison-LHP, Yu Darvish-RHP, Neftali Feliz-RHP, Joe Nathan-CL.
Remember when Colby Lewis came back from a successful two year stint with the Hiroshima Carp and made American League hitters look silly? They seem to have caught back up with him. Despite having a better BB/9, BABIP, and LOB%, Lewis' FIP and ERA both jumped considerably (.99 and .68 respectively). So what happened? His luck on homeruns shifted back to normal. A flyball pitcher is not going to give up less than 1 HR/9 when half their games are at the Ballpark in Arlington. He has good control (3.02 K/BB the past two seasons) and has punched out 365 hitters over the past two seasons. He throws a four-seamer in the low 90s, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The slider and the fastball seem to be his money pitches. Derek Holland just signed a new contract for 5/$28.5MM and two club options. The recent media darling with the pedophile mustache had a better than decent first full season. He'll probably never have the strikeout totals or pinpoint control to become an ace, but he should be a solid 2-3 option for quite some time (obvious pitching injury caveat applies here). He keeps the ball down (44% career GB%), which plays perfect in every park. He throws a four-seamer in the low-to-mid 90s, a sinker, a slider, a curveball, and the occasional changeup. It looks like his fastball gets the best results. Oh yeah, and his nickname is when you fart under the covers. Where the hell did Matt Harrison's breakout 2011 come from? Prior to finally being worth something to the Rangers last season, I was borderline convinced the man obtained energy from photosynthesis. He posted a career high in K/9 along with a career low in BB/9, which might be sustainable. Something tells me the 0.63 HR/9 isn't. Harrison is another groundballer (45.6% career GB%), so a HR/9 around 1.0 wouldn't be absurd. Harrison seems to be shying away from the cutter he once relied on, now primarily using a low-to-mid 90s fastball and sinker, with liberal doses of curveballs and changeups to keep hitters honest.
How has it taken me this long to get to Yu Darvish, you may impatiently be asking yourself. Well, few people know I'm fueled creatively by my massive hatred of immigrants. Look at the schedule and see that the Rangers' second opponent is the Seattle Mariners and you should be able to guess why he's starting the season fourth in the rotation. Darvish's size (6'5", 215 lbs.) should help him stay healthy. According to reports, he throws a four-seamer in the mid-90s, a biting slurve, a two-seamer, a splitter, a cutter, and a curveball. We'll miss him this time around, but I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Much like our beloved Chris Sale, Neftali Feliz is making the jump from reliever to starter this season. Even though he's been a dominant closer over the last two seasons, there is more value to be had in the rotation. Feliz likely won't be able to throw in the upper-90s all game if he wants to last six or more innings, but his fastball will still be dominant. His slider is his second best pitch, followed by a decent changeup. It will be interesting to see him adjust back to being a starter. Signing Joe Nathan made the transition doable. Nathan had the worst year of his Minnesota career last season, which wasn't shocking seeing as he was a 36 year old coming off of Tommy John surgery. His fastball now sits in the low-90s, but his curveball and slider are still strong. Is anyone else surprised he's only 39 saves away from 300?
Outlook: The two-time reigning champions of the American League are still in contention for the crown. We're in a quasi-rebuilding year. I'm thinking we go 4-5 against the Rangers this year.