A.L. West Preview: Rangers Nab Phenom In Playoff Quest

Joe LaTengo | Updated Mar 08, 2012


It’s said that everything is bigger in Texas, and the Rangers are facing some big-time hype and scrutiny as they attempt to make their way back to the World Series.

The Action: Two words … Yu Darvish. All general manager Jon Daniels had to do in the off-sesaon was pay an estimated $111 million for the Japanese-Iranian pitching phenom. The 25-year-old righthander looked good in his first start in spring training on Wednesday, working two scoreless innings with three strikeouts.

It’s A Lock: Manager Ron Washington has to like that most of the infield is set, with Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus as the everyday players at the 4, 5 and 6 positions. Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba form a fine catching tandem.

Colby Lewis went 14-10 last year with a high strikeout count but also a lofty ERA; nonetheless the 32-year-old righthander is seen as coming into his own. Add him to Darvish, Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Alexei Ogando and closer Joe Nathan, and that’s a pitching staff that should throw some fear into opposing teams.

Hedge Your Bets: Darvish will be under the microscope, but so will the rest of this squad. First base is still wide open; Mitch Moreland, Michael Young and Napoli all saw time there last season. The well-traveled Conor Jackson (Arizona, Oakland, Boston, and now Texas) will try to prove he and his power stroke belong at that corner position.

Josh Hamilton had a well-published relapse in his battle with drugs and alcohol last year, and time will tell whether this latest fall from grace will affect his on-field performance. Now there’s a controversy over what Hamilton said before spring training began. If there are any more problems with the troubled but gifted outfielder, lefthanded-hitting David Murphy can provide cover in left. Chris Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin will all get looks in center field.

Power-hitting right fielder Nelson Cruz has never played more than 128 games in a season in his six years in the bigs, and has been on the disabled list five times since 2010. He’s also good for about a strikeout per game, so he needs to stay healthy and not chase so many pitches.

The Payoff: CEO Nolan Ryan is banking on this team winning it all, but the MLB futures betting has a couple of teams ahead of his in that race. In any case, it should be fun watching them battle the Angels for the division title.