The 2013 Texas Rangers are officially at their spring training home in Surprise, Ariz., getting set for what could be another run at a World Series championship.
For those who think I might have gone a little too far with my prediction, wait a few minutes and I’ll let you go along for the ride. Just make sure to wear your Major League Baseball approved seatbelt.
In the 2010 World Series against the San Francisco Giants, the Texas Rangers weren’t beaten just by offense alone. They were outpitched — badly. They were overmatched by guys like Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, and Matt Cain just to name a few.
But they forgot one thing — pitching.
One year later, and right back in the World Series, Rangers closer Neftali Feliz was one pitch away from bringing the first championship in franchise history back to Arlington.
One blown lead later, Darren Oliver was in the exact same spot. He had the lead and was one pitch away from doing what their closer couldn’t do — close.
Unfortunately, he would suffer the exact same fate as Feliz did. One bad pitch, twice, made the difference between celebrating, and watching someone else celebrate for the second straight season.
You see, no matter how much offense the Texas Rangers had those two seasons, and they had a lot of it, it wasn’t enough — no matter how many dramatic postseason home runs Cruz hit, and no matter how much of a story book ending to his life Hamilton almost had with his 10th inning home run in game six. It came down to pitching, something the Rangers just didn’t have.
After two straight painful trips to the big show, the Rangers did something at the end of the 2013 season that not even I expected them to do — quit.
After losing the division lead and eventually the division itself to the Oakland Athletics, the Texas Rangers came limping back home to Arlington to face the Baltimore Orioles in a play-in game to decide who got the last spot in the American League playoff picture.
The Rangers were, and still are, the better team. But they decided they’d had enough for one season. They decided they were done and didn’t want to play any more baseball for the remaining 2012 calendar year. So, like a dog wanting a treat for doing a trick, the Rangers rolled over and played dead.
It wasn’t like that team was going to get anywhere near a third straight trip to the World Series, but no one expected this talented Texas Rangers team to give a less than lackluster effort against a Joe Saunders, a guy who was winless in six tries at Rangers Ballpark, and a team that didn’t nearly have the kind of names Texas could run out there game in and game out.
But, I guess when a team is tired and done playing they simple take their ball and go home.
Fast forward to Surprise, Ariz. The team that once looked unbeatable in the American League suddenly looks like a team in the middle of a rebuilding project.
Hamilton, Napoli, Young, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara have all moved on to different teams, replaced by an aging veteran, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, and a guy who had to be talked out of retirement just to play for them, designated hitter Lance Berkman.
While there are a few other names thrown in there, it certainly isn’t the team that began the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons. The “NA-PO-LI” chant will now be done at Fenway Park in Boston, the four home runs in one game celebration may now take place in Anaheim, and the so-called “face of the franchise,” now has his face on a Philadelphia Phillies baseball card.
It’s a new day and a new time for the Rangers and their fans. But there’s one thing that may make the biggest difference for this season.
While Texas has yet to name a fifth starter, what they have at the top of the rotation is arguably more than they’ve had in quite some time.
The young and uber talented Japanese right-hander will now be thrust into the limelight as the “ace” of the Texas Rangers staff and not a moment too soon. While most didn’t expect him to be the guy in this position going into just his second year with the team, he is the right man for the job.
Lee couldn’t hang in the Texas heat, C.J. Wilson was too full of himself and did the biggest postseason disappearing act as the ace of the staff, and losing Colby Lewis to injury last season was a huge blow to the club.
Now, with Darvish at the top of the rotation, young left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland another year older and another year wiser, and Alexi Ogando hoping to prove that his half-season, All-Star worthy performance was no fluke, the Texas Rangers could be geared up for the type of run they made just two years ago.
Everyone wants the big bat, but even with that in their lineup, this team still couldn’t win a championship. With the right players in place, and the right pitchers in the rotation, this team can finally focus on doing something most don’t expect them to do.
This Texas Rangers team will go as far as Darvish carries them. If Darvish remains the guy who showed up in the second half of the 2012 season, getting stronger after most thought he’d fall off, they could finally have that ace they’ve always been looking for.
It takes just one single guy to be the leader. Even if his English still isn’t great, and even if he still needs a translator to talk to teammates and the media, his lead-by-example attitude may be all it takes for the rest of this team to follow suit.