Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels admits he isn’t good at comparing one season with another.
So when he was asked Saturday morning to compare his thoughts now with how he felt on the eve of the 2015 season, he recalled Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton’s friendly mocking after Daniels declared he felt good about the club.
“We did,” Daniels said. “I don’t think many believed us.”
Of course, the Rangers’ rough start a season ago seemed inevitable after major injuries and the club’s league-worst spring record. They also had a newbie manager in Jeff Banister and big contract bats supposedly past their prime and returning from injury in Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder.
They had a patched-together rotation with Yu Darvish out for the season and Derek Holland injured in the home opener, and a bullpen that would be completely remodeled before the season was two months old.
With all of this going on, even the Optimist Club looked away in despair.
It resulted in a 7-15 record by May 1. It was a hole which the Rangers slowly clawed out of. The arrivals of Cole Hamels and relievers Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman at the trade deadline were like professional excavation tools to speed up the process. By the final day of the regular season, the Rangers were AL West champions.
“The ability to get off to a good start starts with healthier players,” Banister said before Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the spring training finale at Globe Life Park. “With our starters all in tow, we have an opportunity to get off to a better start.”
But, Banister added, “Getting off to a good start is playing well.”
Not many Rangers played well last April besides Prince Fielder and pitcher Nick Martinez. In 2016, there are no lingering injury questions in the lineup, and for the first time in several years a four-man rotation is healthy — with Yu Darvish set to return in mid-May.
Left field is occupied by a former All-Star shortstop in Ian Desmond, and center field is filled by Delino DeShields, who was an unknown rookie reserve when the season began in Oakland a year ago.
Mitch Moreland was coming off ankle surgery but turned in the best season of his career. Rougned Odor was so out of sorts at the plate that it took a demotion to Triple A to straighten him out. When he returned in June, he helped revitalize the lineup the final few months of the season.
Whether the Rangers start fast, slow or in-between in 2016, the makeup of the clubhouse won’t let it overwhelm them in either direction.
“I’ve played a lot of years and I’ve been on slow starts, medium starts, fast starts,” Monday’s Opening Day starter, Cole Hamels, said. “I think it’s just the approach every day coming into it, no matter what we did on the field the day before.
“But the atmosphere we have in our clubhouse, the camaraderie we do have, I don’t think it’ll be a problem no matter what the results are the first couple of weeks. I know we’re out here to win, and we aren’t going to settle for anything but winning.”
For Banister, who begins his second season as Rangers manager, one area in which the club should be improved is the overall hitting approach. The mentality improved throughout last season and was a point of emphasis in the spring.
“You’ve logged in enough miles in spring training and pitches seen, pitches thrown and ground balls taken to have the body physically ready to play,” Banister said. “The mind is ready to play based on what we asked them to do in spring training. I think we’re physically ready, mentally prepared and emotionally in the right place.”
Daniels called the 2016 spring training season “as fun a camp to be around and be part of” in his Rangers tenure.
“It’s a cohesive group of guys, and we think talented,” he said. “We like our depth. We have question marks like every club does, but we feel good about our chances to answer them positively.”
Rangers vs. Mariners
3:05 p.m. Monday, FSSW/ESPN