A mass of Texas Rangers ballplayers, dressed in sweatshirts and stocking caps and other varieties of cold-weather clothing, gathered Tuesday in the Arizona chill for their first full-squad workout of spring training.
The forecasts for their 2018 season might actually be colder. Sports radio hosts in recent days have wondered what it is that will get Rangers fans excited and feeling optimistic about the season.
Hope is hard to come by upon an initial survey of the roster and the American League West landscape. The Rangers will be lucky to finish at .500. First place is out of the question with the Houston Astros at the top of the mountain.
But the opinions that matter most, the ones belonging to those heavily layered ballplayers, and some deeper looks at the club reveal a pathway to contention and even to a playoff spot.
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It won't be easy. The buzzword this spring might very well be "if." But, yes, it is feasible that the Rangers end up competing for another trip to October.
Runs will be scored
The offense, despite all its warts last season, finished fifth in the AL in runs (799) and third in the majors in home runs (237), and the group that did that returns largely in tact.
The Rangers finished 2017 with nine players with at least 17 home runs, and only two of them — Carlos Gomez (17) and Mike Napoli (29) — aren't back.
Power, though, can't carry the offense. The Rangers are locking in on reducing strikeouts and increasing walks. They need to up their average with runners in scoring position after batting .252 in 2017. That was down 25 points from 2016.
They need Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo to set the table, too. When they have in the past, ahead of Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and others, the offense has been at its best.
(Knock on wood, but Beltre is healthy.)
There's potential, as long as the hitters don't stray too far from their approach and stick to their strengths.
"Delino and I set the table, and guys like Elvis and Adrian are good situational hitters," Choo said. "Everybody has a job in the lineup and a skill, so if we follow our skill we'll score a lot of runs."
Odor will be better
Manager Jeff Banister said that Rougned Odor is poised for a big season, or at least to get back to the player he was in 2016 after an abysmal 2017.
The second baseman batted only .204 last season, a decline of 67 points. Though he hit 30 home runs, his on-base plus slugging percentage was only .649.
But it's not just the bat that needs a boost. Odor's fielding has been mistake-prone. The solution to both, though, is not trying to do too much.
If a pitcher isn't giving him anything to hit, he must trust that the batter behind him will get a run home. If he makes a nice play with the glove, he needs to be sure that he gets an out rather than take a chance.
"I watched a young second baseman the first time around in 2015 go through a similar stretch," Banister said. "He challenged himself to go back down and find that swagger and identity that makes him what he is.
"The skill set didn't go away. The desire, the drive to work at it, to be better ... I'm banking on all those factors that allow him to be the player he's capable of being."
The five pitchers who are expected to be starters, no matter the size of the rotation, all have track records of varying success. In other words, they know how to get to the mound and what to do once on it to be success.
Each of them has made at least 30 starts and won at least 10 games in multiple seasons.
Some of them, though, need to rediscover past forms. They are motivated to do so.
Start with Mike Minor, who is starting for the first time since 2014. Banister said that the lefty has a chance to be "an electric starter." Then there's Matt Moore, the can't-miss prospect who had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and then wasn't very good last season. Veteran Doug Fister was very good last season down the stretch for Boston.
Cole Hamels expects to rebound, and Martin Perez expects to carry over the quality work he did last season in the second half. And then there's Matt Bush, the wild card to the entire pitching staff.
"Experience is something that's very hard. It's not tangible," said Moore, an All-Star in 2013. "The confidence in the group and an unspoken feeling amongst us is guys are going to be able to handle their business."
Bullpen will be better
Even if Bush winds up in the rotation, the bullpen will be better for one primary reason: a full season of Jake Diekman.
Here's another reason: It can't be as bad as it was in 2017.
The left-handed Diekman missed all but the final month last season as he rid his body of ulcerative colitis. His power arm and experience were missed early and often as the relievers struggled.
Alex Claudio returns as the reigning Rangers Pitcher of the Year. Keone Kela is healthy, and the hope is he remains available. Chris Martin, the former Arlington High star, brings a big arm and two successful seasons in Japan.
Any of them could end up as the closer, but Diekman's mind-set is that the entire bullpen is the closer. If the bullpen inherits a lead, it's the relievers' job to protect it.
"A hold counts the same as a save," Diekman said. "You're just not the last person to do it."
2015 feeling again
Amid all the doom and gloom externally is the feeling internally that was prevalent in 2015. Coming off a miserable season and with Yu Darvish injured for the year in his first spring outing, nothing was expected of the Rangers.
They ended up winning the AL West.
Being overlooked has galvanized past Rangers teams, and Banister believes that is the case this spring. His motto for the club is "One Texas," which he hopes brings the Rangers closer with themselves and the community.
But he had another Tuesday about being an underdog.
"There's a group of guys in there that can't wait to respond to what they encountered last year," Banister said. "We play well in the underdog position. We've shown that.
"Hungry dogs run faster."