Texas Rangers

'We're making the postseason. No question.' With Rangers, there might be a few

If the Rangers want to celebrate a playoff berth in 2018, the offense can't have any letdowns.
If the Rangers want to celebrate a playoff berth in 2018, the offense can't have any letdowns. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Barring something falling from the sky — besides the Tuesday rains that washed out Globe Life Park — and hitting him on the head or hamstring or calf, Adrian Beltre will be on the Texas Rangers' Opening Day roster.

That's a vast improvement from where he and they were a year ago.

Beltre had a tear in his right calf last spring and would start the season on the disabled list. He was there until late May. His hamstring popped at the end of August.

The Rangers finished 78-84. The Beltre injuries weren't solely responsible for the sub-.500 record, only the second since 2008 that the Rangers failed to finish with at least 81 victories.

Now, though, he is in the best health exiting spring training in years and will be on the field Thursday when the Rangers open the 2018 season against the Houston Astros.

But it will take more than a healthy Beltre to get the Rangers where they are telling themselves they will be at the end of the season — in the playoffs and on the way to World Series title.

"We're making the postseason," designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo said. "No question."

Well, there might be a few.

But stranger things have happened. It takes overachieving players and underachieving opponents. It takes health and catching teams when their star players are hurt or otherwise detained.

The Rangers' baseball world must be in harmony, and that's just win a wild spot. Once in the tournament, anything can happen:

Starting pitching flourishes

Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb, the top starting pitchers available during the off-season, didn't join the Rangers. Instead, Doug Fister, Matt Moore and Mike Minor did.

Those three newcomers have to be good enough. They don't have to be Cy Young material, but they need to stay healthy and give the offense a chance to outscore the other team.

The same holds for Cole Hamels, who will start the season opener, and Martin Perez, who will make his 2018 debut next week. At one point during spring training, Hamels was described as "being on a mission."

"I think that’s what happens for a lot of us, is we’ve got to get a couple games under our belt for us to get into a rhythm," Hamels said. "I think with what I was able to this year in spring, in trying to prepare for that, I feel a little bit more at ease, that I’ll be able to handle those emotions of what’s at stake and starting off the season right."

The starters also need to do well because the Rangers lack depth at Triple A Round Rock. Any one injury would be a blow. Two could be devastating.

Yu Darvish returned to the spring home of the Texas Rangers on Wednesday after they didn’t make a serious push for him in the off-season. Darvish, now with the Chicago Cubs, gave up only one run in six innings to his old team. (video by Jeff Wils

Bullpen closes

Beltre looks to right-center field, home of the Rangers' bullpen, and doesn't see a closer. There are options to close games, but not bona-fide pitcher to entrust with the ball in the ninth inning.

Don't be surprised if pitchers accustomed to working in one-inning spurts get the first look to be the closer. Jake Diekman, Keone Kela and Chris Martin hit that mark more so than Matt Bush and incumbent closer Alex Claudio.

Keep an eye out for Tim Lincecum, who said on Wednesday that he expects to be ready May 1. He could get a look at closer.

Having Diekman in any capacity should be an upgrade over last year's bullpen. He was dealing with surgeries for ulcerative colitis and wasn't available until September. He was sorely missed during the bullpen's disastrous April.

Offense meets expectations

With all the questions about the pitching staff, the lineup can't take off any long stretches like it did last season. Spots 1 through 9 have to click, but some more than others.

"I'm not worried about our offense," Choo said. "There's going to be a lot of runs scored."

Rougned Odor, for instance, can't bat .204 again this season.Joey Gallo wants to be a more complete hitter, though it's hard to argue with what he gave the Rangers in 2017 in his first full season in the majors.

It all starts with Delino DeShields, who will again be the leadoff hitter and looked to be on the verge of a breakout season based on a terrific spring season.

Left field is an area of concern. Ryan Rua will get the lion's share of the playing time, as long as he's a protective hitter. Willie Calhoun is waiting in Triple A Round Rock, though his defense is seen as a major liability.

AL West foes flounder

While doom and gloom has been projected for the Rangers in the American League West and while everyone is picking Houston to win the division, it's not like the others in pursuit of the Astros knocked 'em dead in spring training.

The Los Angeles Angels, for one, will go with a six-man rotation to accommodate Shohei Ohtani, the two-way star from Japan the Rangers badly coveted. Ohtani, though, had a miserable spring, on the mound and at the plate, and some speculation was generated that he needed to go to Triple A.

The Angels have already seen one starter, Andrew Heaney, deal with elbow soreness, and the Angels, like the Rangers, are searching for closer.

The Mariners were their usual active selves in the off-season, but they were really hit by the injury bug in spring training. Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and, probably most important, Felix Hernandez all dealt with injuries of some sort.

There were more. Many more. Enough to lead to a slow start to the season and to nag players all season.

If things do fall apart for the Angels and Mariners, the Rangers could have an easier time in the division and more wins than expected.

"We won't find out until we line up and play games," Beltre said. "That's the bottom line. I believe this team can compete."

Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels explains where things stand with Bartolo Colon on the final day of spring training (video by Jeff Wilson).

Chemistry 101

The Rangers believe there was an issue with the clubhouse chemistry last season, and they believe that recapturing the magic they had in prior seasons will serve them well.

Beltre talked about it as recently as Wednesday, and he wasn't alone this spring in harping on harmony.

The basic sentiment is that if the Rangers find their clubhouse kumbaya, they will be fine.

"Taking care of one another, becoming a team, that's our biggest thing," Fister said. "It was explained to me a long time ago that baseball is played from the shoulder up.

"Everybody's got talent and the tools they need. It's how you address it mentally and emotionally, and how you feel as a family. If you can take care of one another, take care of the 25 guys around you, the baseball is going to take care of itself."

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