Tag: Elvis Andrus

Blue Jays vs. Rangers ALDS Game 3: Live Score and Instant Reaction

FINAL SCORE: Blue Jays 5 – 1 Rangers

Troy Tulowitzki belted a three-run homer in the top of the sixth to help lead the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-1 win over the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday night.

With the win, the Blue Jays forced a Game 4 on Monday and put the pressure on the Rangers to try and end the series before having to go back to Toronto.

Before the sixth inning, Texas managed to turn four double plays to end some Toronto rallies and lessen the damage. The Blue Jays got on the board in the top of the third when Dioner Navarro came around to score after starting the inning off with a double.

Toronto added another run in the top of the fourth when Martin Perez walked three-straight batters to force in a run with the bases loaded against Tulowitzki, who finished the game with four RBI after not having a postseason hit.

Texas scored in the seventh with its first run when Rougned Odor grounded out and scored Elvis Andrus from third.

Game 4 will be played Monday night when the Blue Jays try to keep momentum and the Rangers try to wake up their bats.

40-year-old R.A. Dickey (11-11, 3.91 ERA) is slated to start the game for the Blue Jays. The knuckleballer will be taking the mound in his first career postseason start.

Derek Holland (4-3, 4.91 ERA) will toe the rubber for Texas. The lefty could have potentially started in Game 3, but a history of giving up home runs pushed his start back to Monday night with the hopes that he might not have to face a tough Toronto lineup.

It will be interesting to see if Adrian Beltre will be healthy enough to come back to the Texas lineup after missing two games with a back injury. He would definitely provide a much needed spark to a batting order that looked a little out of sorts on Sunday.

David Price also could make an appearance in relief for the Jays. If he does, will he be protecting a lead or trying to prevent more damage? The lefty is 0-6 as a starter in the postseason.

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Texas Rangers Speedster Elvis Andrus Steals Home vs. Padres

Elvis Andrus…that man is fast.

The Texas Rangers speedster stole home like it was routine during the team’s contest against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.

Andrus was eyeing Padres pitcher Kevin Quackenbush before he jetted home to give the Rangers an 8-4 lead in the top of the seventh inning. It appeared Quackenbush was in deep thought during his windup, giving Andrus a humongous head start. After Quackenbush realized what was happening, his throw was just a bit off, leaving Andrus safe at the plate.

The Rangers hadn’t seen a straight steal of home in a while, as the last time it happened, the movie Gladiator was in theaters.

The Rangers held on to win, 8-6. 

[MLB, h/t CBS Sports, Twitter]

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Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus Take the Time to Divide Territory on the Field

Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and third baseman Adrian Beltre have a pretty hilarious relationship, but they can still get things done when they need to.

The two have been teammates since Beltre signed with Texas before the 2011 season, and they have created their fair share of funny moments.

Andrus and Beltre were back at it during Monday’s game against the Seattle Mariners. An infield pop-up caused some territorial issues between the two. Luckily, Beltre, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and Andrus were able to work out the problem quickly.

Oddly enough, this wasn’t even the first time in the past week that the two have discussed their territories on the field.

It’s probably a good thing they finally had this discussion. They haven’t always respected each other’s territory on the field.

For those of you who want to see more of Andrus and Beltre together, watch this MLB.com video.


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Elvis Andrus Injury: Updates on Rangers Shortstop’s Forearm and Return

Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus is working his way back from forearm tightness this spring and will soon make his return to the diamond, according to Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Jeff Wilson on Twitter:

If Andrus can return to the field in seven days, he’ll have an excellent shot to be available in time for the Rangers’ regular-season opener, which is scheduled for March 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies

He has appeared in 12 spring training games this spring, batting .314 with four RBI. He recently talked about the injury and pointed to his offseason regimen as a potential cause, per The Dallas Morning NewsEvan Grant: “I was resting a lot. That was my main thing. This is really the first time this has happened. But I’ll learn from my mistake and work my arm more…I want to start throwing, but I want to be careful, too.”

The 25-year-old Venezuelan has spent the past five seasons with Texas, batting .274 with 264 RBI and 18 home runs over that time. The two-time MLB All-Star has also made 34 postseason appearances for the Rangers since making his major league debut in 2009.

Although he has a few more obstacles to overcome before he can return to the field and help the Rangers begin their pursuit of a World Series championship, the latest news is encouraging. 

With spring training winding down and the regular season on the horizon, Andrus and the Rangers can ill afford a setback. Therefore, a patient approach makes the most sense for both the player and the club. 

After all, Andrus has been a durable player over the past five years, playing in at least 150 regular-season games in each of the past three seasons and appearing in at least 145 regular-season games in every season since 2009. 

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MLB Waiver Wire: MVPs, Riskiest Players and Potential Suitors

Players who range from assuredly lucrative to downright comical to generally intriguing make up the MLB waiver wire in 2013. Hot commodity Alex Rios finally went to the Texas Ranger, but some other big names have cleared waivers as well and still sit on their respective teams. Here’s a look at some guys who could move in the immediate future and the teams that should be in the hunt for them.



Elvis Andrus

While it might seem silly for Texas to trade one of the (usually) more productive shortstops in the game to another contender, the Rangers have a surplus of middle infielders and can afford to let the 24-year-old go.

Andrus hasn’t been the offensive threat in 2013 as he had been in years past. His slash line is .254/.317/.305, which is below his career .271/.338/.345, but he’s already racked up 30 steals and still has the potential to be a weapon at the plate.

He also hasn’t displayed the same defensive acumen this year as he did in 2012. According to FanGraphs.com, his ultimate zone rating (UZR)—the most complicated but comprehensive defensive stat in the gamehas dropped from 2012’s 8.3 (sixth best in the majors) to 3.2 (11th best in the majors). But the glove wizardry is still there:

Still, the fact that he’s fallen so short of expectations this yearespecially after signing an eight-year, $120 million contract extension—could increase Texas’ willingness to part with him. If the Rangers encounter the right deal, they’ll entertain trade talks:

The team with the biggest need for Rios is St. Louis because Pete Kozma has been abysmal. There are better-hitting pitchers than him. His .225/.273/.284 line is by far the worst on the team. Yes, he can flash the leather with the best of them, but fans are fed up:

And the Cards are keeping their eyes open for an upgrade:

I’ll also mention that Cincinnati could benefit from benching Zack Cozart, but the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay thinks adding Andrus is unlikely:


Dan Haren

Not too long ago, Haren seemed to be one of 2013’s biggest disappointments. He was pitching to the tune of a 7-11 record with a 4.82 ERA—not exactly what the Washington Nationals had in mind when they signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal last December.

But wait, there’s been salvation:

According to Michael Barr of FanGraphs.com, Haren’s better pitches have become even more wicked:

In the second half, suddenly his sinker is terrific. Opponents are hitting just .200 with a .323 slugging percentage. His splitter is even better. Opponents are hitting just .103, slugging .138.

And per James Wagner of The Washington Post, Haren recently became just the 13th pitcher in baseball history to defeat all 30 teams. So clearly he can be consistently dominant.

One team that should vie for him is Atlanta. While I think it’s unlikely that Washington—which probably doesn’t consider itself out of the playoff hunt despite being 9.5 games back in the wild-card race—would trade Haren to a division rival, the Braves could use an ace-type in their rotation.

If Atlanta wants to contend against the Los Angeles Dodgers and their big three in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Braves should at least try for Haren.

While the Rangers might look to get rid of Andrus, they could be thinking about bringing Haren back to the AL West, according to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News.

Haren will be a free agent after the 2013 season, so unlike Andrus, he’d just be a rental and a fairly economical signing.



Barry Zito

Zito does not have a lot working in his favor right now.

Why is he dangerous? Why isn’t he dangerous is the better question.

Let’s start with the most obvious factors. He’s 35. He has a 5.34 ERA and by far the worst WHIP of his career (1.693). His numbers on the road are nauseating: a 9.45 ERA and a 2.30 WHIP. Which means he can only pitch (kind of) in San Francisco.

Then there’s the money issue. Danny Knobler of CBS Sports mentioned on August 14 that the southpaw “makes $20 million this season, with a $7 million buyout coming, so it’s no surprise at all that he cleared waivers.

Justin Gallagher, the sports editor for the San Juan Star, sums up the interest in Zito nicely in two tweets:

The Giants just booted Zito from their rotation. They clearly have no tie to him. While he has some postseason success, he’d be a risky pickup for anyone.

ESPN The Magazine’s Tim Keown argued that Zito “turned his career around” in 2012, so maybe there’s something left in his tank. If so, it must be a cavernous tank with some very good hiding spots.

If the Braves don’t try for Haren—or the still less risky Erik Bedard, who also just cleared waiversthey could go for Zito with a lot of blind faith. Devin Pangaro of Swingin‘ A’s wrote that while “there’s been no credible link to any true Athletics interest in Zito,” a reunion could be in order with the right deal.

At this point, Zito hasn’t proved that he can pitch anywhere other than at AT&T Park. And the mediocre Giants don’t even want him in the rotation. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.


Placido Polanco

Polanco is a career .297 hitter and has the potential to help out a team like Atlanta. The Braves fail at hitting for average and just announced that infielder Tyler Pastornicky needs season-ending ACL surgery. Polanco would be great off the bench and is flexible positionally and in the batting order.

He also happens to be injury prone, which is why I’ve labeled him a risk.

It seemed like he was never on the field for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012, and back issues have continued this year. Tony Verduci of SB Nation wrote in November 2012 that Polanco “has very little value as a starter at this stage of his career, with his his age, injury concerns and slower bat.”

Like Zito’s case, the prospect of a trade has only prompted humor:

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MLB Trade Rumors: Updating All the Hottest Waiver-Trade Buzz

As of Aug. 16, 15 major league teams either hold a playoff spot or are within 8.5 games of one and could be looking to improve their playoff chances by making a waiver-wire deal in the near future.

Four trades have happened thus far.

The Rangers acquired outfielder Alex Rios from the White Sox for prospect Leury Garcia. The Royals picked up utility infielder Jamey Carroll from Minnesota and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio from Toronto, both for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The Rays, meanwhile, acquired lefty Wesley Wright from the Astros for cash considerations. 

With plenty of trade possibilities still lingering, here’s all the latest waiver-trade buzz from around the league.


Dan Haren Clears Waivers Amid Return to Top Form

After it was reported that Nationals right-hander Dan Haren was placed on waivers last week, I wrote that he had a good chance of clearing because of his salary and early-season struggles. Still, he could draw interest because of how well he had been pitching of late.

A week later, the 32-year-old has officially cleared waivers. He has made two more terrific starts, giving him a 2.30 ERA with only 29 hits allowed, 10 walks and 42 strikeouts in his last 43 innings since returning from the disabled list (seven starts). Haren was on the verge of being released before he turned things around. 

The 59-61 Nationals don’t have a ton of starting pitching depth to fill Haren’s spot. That said, I’m certain they’d fill the gap with whatever journeyman they can find off the Triple-A scrap heap if a team is willing to eat Haren’s remaining salary (approximately $3.25 million) and offer up a midlevel prospect. 

For a team like the Dodgers, who could use an upgrade at the back of the rotation after Chris Capuano got knocked around in his last two starts, or the Indians, who are just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, Haren could be a nice pickup down the stretch.

A reunion with the Oakland A’s, who he played with from 2005-2007, could also make sense. 


Who Needs Justin Morneau? 

As expected, Twins first baseman and former AL MVP Justin Morneau (pictured) has cleared waivers. Now the Twins will try to find the best deal for the 32-year-old and decide if it’s worth trading him away unceremoniously after 11 mostly very good seasons with the team.

If his August numbers are any indication, the acquiring team would be getting Morneau at just the right time. He is 18-for-66 with six homers, four doubles and 15 RBI this month. He had a .712 OPS with eight homers in 98 games prior to this current hot streak.

The Rays could be interested in acquiring another bat, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted that a right-handed hitter such as Paul Konerko, who was placed on waivers a few days ago, or Delmon Young, who became a free agent recently, would make more sense. 

A team that could be the best match is Baltimore, which has been going with rookie Henry Urrutia (.612 OPS, 0 BB, 9 K in 21 games) at the designated hitter spot. Wilson Betemit, who is due back soon from the disabled list, will likely take over for Urrutia, but a red-hot Morneau down the stretch might be preferred. 

Of the National League contenders, the Pirates could move Garrett Jones to right field if newly promoted rookie Andrew Lambo doesn’t produce right away, opening up first base for Morneau. Lambo, who had 31 homers between Double-A and Triple-A, is 1-for-8 with a double since his call-up.


Astros Could Deal Lone Veteran Remaining

The Astros have one player left on their roster making at least $1 million this season, and there’s a good chance that the number becomes zero before the end of the month. Lefty Erik Bedard (pictured), who signed a one-year, $1.15 million deal this past offseason, has pitched well enough to draw some trade interest. 

In the same tweet mentioning that Haren passed through waivers unclaimed, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the 34-year-old Bedard had also cleared. Prior to a rough outing on Thursday, Bedard had a 3.56 ERA with 42 walks and 82 strikeouts in his last 93.2 innings pitched. 

The Rangers, who could be without Alexi Ogando if he’s forced to miss time with an inflamed nerve in his shoulder, could be interested in Bedard. They’ve already completed one deal with Houston this month, acquiring non-roster lefty Travis Blackley for cash considerations.

Since the start of the season, the Astros have traded away three of four players making a seven-figure salary in 2013.

Bud Norris ($3 million) was traded to Baltimore, Jose Veras ($1.85 million) was dealt to Detroit and Wesley Wright ($1 million) went to Tampa Bay. Catcher Jason Castro, who will be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason, is currently projected to be the team’s highest-paid player in 2014.


Braves Seek Second Base Help 

With Dan Uggla out at least another 12 days recovering from LASIK eye surgery and Tyler Pastornicky out for the season with a torn knee ligament, Mark Bowman of MLB.com is reporting that the Braves are searching the waiver wire for some second base help. 

The potential list of options has thinned out greatly over the past couple of weeks, however.

The Royals recently acquired two backup types, Jamey Carroll and Emilio Bonifacio, who could play second base. Chase Utley agreed to a contract extension with the Phillies. Rickie Weeks, meanwhile, suffered a season-ending hamstring injury.

If it’s just temporary help they’re seeking, there are a few options readily available that could be an upgrade over Paul Janish and Phil Gosselin.

One intriguing match could be Brendan Ryan (pictured) of the Mariners, who has already cleared waivers. He would allow the Braves to put two of the best defensive shortstops in baseball on the field at the same time. Andrelton Simmons is already considered by many to be the top defender in baseball. Ryan has also been a popular choice in recent years.

The 31-year-old Ryan hasn’t played second base since 2009, though, and he hasn’t hit at all this season. It might not be worth the trouble to acquire him unless they believe he’s an upgrade over Janish as the starter now and as Uggla’s backup when he returns. 

They have such a big lead in the division that acquiring temporary help is nearly pointless otherwise. 


Elvis Andrus Clearing Waivers Is Not Big News 

Teams don’t have to place a player on waivers, so it’s probably worth mentioning whenever any player is. But in most cases, they like to keep their options open just in case a team approaches them with an offer they can’t refuse. 

So when a big name like Elvis Andrus (pictured) passes through waivers, we shouldn’t completely write it off as totally irrelevant. But it’s pretty close.

It’s doubtful that the 24-year-old, who already has two All-Star selections on his resume, is going anywhere. The fact that his contract will pay him either $14 million or $15 million per season from 2015-2022, combined with his poor season at the plate, ensured he wasn’t getting claimed.

The Rangers do employ the top prospect in baseball, shortstop Jurickson Profar, who is already in the majors and could probably give the team more offense than Andrus right now. But even if they wanted to trade Andrus, and they had teams interested in acquiring him and his contract, they’d be selling low on a very talented player whom they expected big things from now and in the future. 


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Michael Young to Philadelphia Phillies Trade: Biggest Winners and Losers

The Texas Rangers have reportedly traded infielder/DH Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Josh Lindblom and minor league pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla, according to a tweet by MLB.com’s TR Sullivan.



The trade was confirmed a few minutes later in a separate tweet by MLB.com.



The Phillies will install Young as their starting third baseman, while the Rangers add depth to their pitching at the minor and major league levels. It was a great move by one team and a bit of a head-scratcher for the other.

Click through to see who are the immediate winners and losers of the Michael Young trade

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Texas Rangers: Why Elvis Andrus Should Be Leading Off, Not Ian Kinsler

Ian Kinsler has hit leadoff for the Texas Rangers during the most successful run in team history, but the time has come for Elvis Andrus to ascend to the top of the order.

Andrus is having a breakout season for the Rangers. In the past, he had been a slick fielding shortstop with a decent bat. But this year, he has transformed into one of the top hitting shortstops in baseball.

He’s hitting for a .296 average, but even more importantly, he has a .372 on base percentage—12th best in the American League.

This means he manages to get on base 37 percent of the time. An outstanding rate for a middle of the order hitter let alone a line drive hitting shortstop like Andrus.

The great OBP rate can be attributed to his excellent eye at the plate.

He has the ability to distinguish between balls and strikes with the best of hitters, and he has the discipline to lay off of tempting breaking balls and fastballs just off the strike zone.

Another factor in his outstanding OBP rate is his ability to drive the ball to all fields, which is highlighted by his impressive ability to work the ball the other way.

Kinsler, on the other hand, is a power hitter masquerading in a second baseman’s body.

Every time he comes up to the plate, Kinsler is looking to get the most out of his at bat, swinging with a powerful uppercut that is rarely seen from a leadoff hitter.

Despite bucking normal baseball principals, his swing has been effective throughout his career.


In only seven seasons, he has 131 home runs—averaging just under 20 a year. Like Andrus, Kinsler has a great eye at the plate. He has drawn over 40 walks in each year of his career and drew 89 bases on balls in 2011—the fifth-highest total in the AL.

However, for all of the positives that Kinsler brings to the leadoff spot, his inability to hit for a high average is a major weakness.

Kinsler has the ability to hit for a solid average, as he showed in 2008 when he hit .319. But that was the only time in his career where he has hit above .300, and his aggressive nature at the dish has hurt the Rangers, at times.

His career average is only .275, and in 2012, he’s hitting .272. This low rate can be attributed to his tendency to hit fly balls, which is a consequence of his uppercut.

Kinsler seems to pop up, hit a home run or walk in almost every at bat with no in-between, hurting his ability to reach first base.

Andrus, on the other hand, has no such problem. He hits the ball with authority to all fields and walks at the same prodigious rate as Kinsler.

Kinsler’s game is much more suited for the fifth or sixth spot in the order, where his uppercut swing would have a chance to consistently drive in runs.

So why hasn’t Ron Washington made this change?

That’s a question to ask him, but it probably has something to do with the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”


After all, Kinsler does lead all of baseball in runs scored, and the Rangers do have the top offense in the league.

But for a team that has reached two straight World Series only to fall short on both occasions, they should be looking for any way to improve instead of sticking to what got them there.

Andrus is a natural leadoff hitter, and the Rangers’ already potent offense would be augmented by moving the 23-year-old Venezuelan to the top of the order.

Kinsler has been great, but it’s time for Washington to make this change.

Andrus has earned the opportunity, and Kinsler would flourish in the middle of the order, where he could swing for the fences to his heart’s content.

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Josh Hamilton and the Last Five 4-HR Games in MLB History

Tonight, nobody cares that Josh Hamilton hasn’t played more than 135 games but once in his career. Nobody cares that his past alcohol and drug abuse may shorten the career of one of the most talented players of his generation.

Tonight, May 8, 2012, Josh Hamilton is just the 16th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a single game—and just the fifth since 1986.

Fun fact about the accomplishment: Three of the last four occurrences have been in the month of May, but before that, it hadn’t been done in May since Bobby Lowe became the first player ever to hit four jacks in a game on May 30, 1894. 

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Texas Rangers 2011 MLB Preview

Texas Rangers (2010 record: 90-72)

The Texas Rangers won their first American League pennant, but eventually lost the World Series to the San Francisco Giants. Their drive to the Fall Classic was spurred by an MVP season from LF Josh Hamilton, a Rookie of the Year campaign from closer Neftali Feliz, and all-star efforts from five players.

The defending American League champions lost southpaw Cliff Lee through free agency this winter. It seems to me that Lee’s loss, in combination with the loss of several quality prospects they traded to Seattle in exchange for him, will be difficult to overcome in the short term.

The Rangers needed another starting pitcher after his departure, and while Brandon Webb may prove to be a nice addition, he’s more likely to be this year’s version of Rich Harden. I expected the front office to jump on Carl Pavano once Lee bid them adieu, and I suspect they may regret not jumping in on him.

Notable additions: 3B Adrian Beltre, OF Endy Chavez, LHP Arthur Rhodes, C Yorvit Torrealba and RHP Brandon Webb.

Notable subtractions: DH Vladimir Guerrero, LHP Cliff Lee, C Bengie Molina.


Catcher: Mike Napoli

Infield: Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS) and Adrian Beltre (3B)

Outfield: Josh Hamilton (LF), Julio Borbon (CF) and Nelson Cruz (RF)

Designated Hitter: Michael Young

The offense will be formidable if it can remain healthy. Nearly all of the key contributors have had trouble remaining on the playing field throughout an entire season.

The attack will again be led by a pair of oft-injured corner outfielders—Josh Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP, and Nelson Cruz, who would almost certainly be an MVP candidate in if he remained healthy for an entire season.

Hamilton has alternated healthy and injury-plagued seasons, but when healthy has produced outstanding numbers, as evidenced by last year’s OPS+ of 175.

Cruz has yet to accumulate 500 ABs in any single season. Last year, he was limited to 108 games by a hamstring injury. His .318 batting average was driven by a 35 percent hit rate—that should correct down to about 30 percent with a corresponding dip in his average (to the .260-.270 range).

Third baseman Adrian Beltre produced an outstanding effort during his lone season in Boston, earning him a six-year, $96 million deal with the Rangers. He has hit .265 or better, with 25-plus HR and 75-plus RBI, in four of his last five seasons. He has outstanding career numbers at Rangers Ballpark, posting a .306 BA and .521 slugging percentage in 51 career games.

DH Michael Young has been pinballed from second base to shortstop to third base during his Rangers career, and with the acquisition of Adrian Beltre he has now been removed from the field all together. He made it known he is not happy with this latest development and the team has attempted to trade him (and his $16 million per year salary).

Whether he spends the year in Arlington or elsewhere, he is a consistent contributor on offense, having amassed a .300 career average, 158 HR and 811 RBI.

Elvis Andrus will not provide much in the way of power or production atop the Rangers lineup (his 6 HR in 2009 were most likely an outlier), but the young shortstop has exhibited excellent plate discipline during his first two seasons in the big leagues.

He will likely hit somewhere around league-average (.270), but his walk rate (10 percent) should enable him to post consistently-solid OBPs. He has excellent speed and base-stealing instincts (65 SB in 2009-10), and should score somewhere in the vicinity of 100 runs with Young, Hamilton, Cruz and Beltre hitting behind him.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler made two trips to the disabled list last year. He struggled to hit home runs at the pace his team had become accustomed, but otherwise compiled strong statistics. He posted a .286/.378/.412 line on the season.

Mike Napoli comes to town from division rival Los Angeles, by way of Toronto. The front office hopes he will stabilize a catching situation that has been in flux for the last couple of years. He has 20-plus home run power, but has had trouble making contact (just a 71 percent contact rate over the last four seasons) and struck out a career-high 137 times last year. He has hit less than .250 in three of his five seasons in the big leagues.

When Justin Smoak was shipped off to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, the Rangers turned to rookie Mitch Moreland at first base. They liked what they saw of him in the regular season, when he hit .255 with 9 HR in just 145 AB. They subsequently included him on the postseason roster. He rose to the challenge, hitting .348 with 7 RBI in 15 games.

Julio Borbon got off to a slow start last season, but improved as the year progressed. The fleet-footed center fielder was asked to incorporate the bunt into his offensive game and he responded with 17 bunt singles. This year, I suspect he will be asked to steal more bases, as he has the speed to steal 50-plus bases.

Pitching Staff

Rotation: LHP CJ Wilson, RHP Colby Lewis, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Derek Holland and RHP Brandon Webb.

Closer: RHP Neftali Feliz.

CJ Wilson moved from the closer’s role into the rotation and had great success. The southpaw went 15-8, with a 3.35 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, last year while striking out 170 hitters in 204 IP. With the departure of Cliff Lee, he is the unquestioned ace of the staff.

Righty Colby Lewis returned to the US last year after spending two year in Japan (he went 26-17, 2.82, in two seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball). When all was said and done, he may have been the biggest surprise in the major leagues in 2010, going 12-13 with a 3.72 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 201 IP. It was the most strikeouts recorded by a Rangers pitcher since Nolan Ryan had 203 K in 1991.

Tommy Hunter went 13-4, 3.73, as a starter last year, largely based on luck (27 percent hit rate and 75 percent strand rate) and getting more than six runs per game in offensive support.

I have questions as to whether he’ll develop into a consistent winner in the big leagues. His gb-fb ratio sits at 50-50, which isn’t the formula for success in Rangers Ballpark. He issues a fair number of walks and doesn’t miss enough bats to get out of difficulty when it presents itself.

There seems to be some debate about whether Matt Harrison or Derek Holland should be in the rotation, but it seems obvious to me that Holland should be the choice here.

Harrison’s numbers are pedestrian, and his walk rate is trending in the wrong direction. He had excellent peripherals early last year, and while he showed rust after returning from knee and shoulder woes, his early-season performance showed considerably more potential than Harrison has shown of late.

The last slot in the rotation should go to former Arizona ace Brandon Webb when he gets healthy—or maybe I should say, IF he gets healthy. The big righty has tremendous stuff, but he has made just one start over the last two years due to shoulder troubles.

The Rangers toyed with the idea of moving Feliz into the starting rotation this year, and while they have moved him back to the closer’s role the front office has said he will join the rotation next season. While he initially resisted the switch to the rotation, he later embraced the idea of his new role in the rotation.

For now, he will return to the bullpen as a dominant closer, with a fastball that regularly sits at 96 to 98 mph—with the ability to hit 100 mph. He has a good curveball that will cause knees to buckle on occasion, but it will flatten out and become hittable if he does not stay on top of it, or if he lowers his arm angle. His changeup is a work in progress.

Opposing batters get the ball in the air nearly half of the time when they make contact against him, and Rangers Ballpark is not a place where you want to give up a lot of fly balls.

Prediction for 2011:
1st place (92-70)

The Rangers should be good enough to repeat as division champs, but the road may be more difficult. For all of the talk about Cliff Lee, the Rangers accomplished what they did in 2010 without him, and when he arrived he was just 4-6, 3.98, in 15 starts—hardly the stuff of a Cy Young winner.

The offense will once again be very strong, if the lineup can stay relatively healthy.

Ultimately, the team’s success in 2011 will be predicated on the pitching staff—whether Webb can get (and stay) healthy, whether Lewis can repeat last year’s surprising performance, whether Hunter and Holland can develop into consistent performers, and whether the bullpen can repeat last year’s success (when their 3.38 ERA was good enough for second in the league).

If the answer to many or most of these questions is in the negative, then it is entirely possible the Athletics will overtake the Rangers for the division crown.

Top Five Prospects:

1. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
2. Martin Perez, LHP
3. Jurickson Profar, SS
4. Michael Kirkman, LHP
5. Engel Beltre, OF

Scheppers entered the 2008 college season as a highly-touted prospect at Fresno State, projected to go in the top ten in the June draft, but a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely and he dropped down to the second round. He did not sign and eventually played in the independent American Association. He was then chosen in the supplemental phase of the first round in 2009 and signed with the Rangers for $1.25 million.

The club kept him in the bullpen last year to protect his shoulder. While the front office says his future is as a starter, it is possible he may end up in the bullpen for the immediate future.

The big league club needs a closer and he has the stuff to be the successor to Neftali Feliz in that role. He has a four-seam fastball that sits at 95 to 97 mph and will tickle 100 mph when he works out of the bullpen. He has two off-speed pitches which are considered to be “plus” pitches (curve ball and slider). His fastball and slider are both considered to be potentially dominant pitches.

No matter which role the club eventually defines for him, he will need to work on the consistency of his mechanics and his release point. The sky is the limit, whether he is in the rotation or the bullpen.

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