As the two-time defending AL West champions begin the baseball season, the Texas Rangers are urged to pause and take note:
They hate you.
The self-styled national baseball experts. The TV analysts. The preseason baseball magazines. The websites.
Especially the websites.
They don’t like your chances this season. They say the Rangers, winners of 95 games, were lucky in 2016.
They point to the Rangers’ run differential, a modest plus-8 runs. They scoff at the 31 one-run victories. They snicker at the three-game sweep in the postseason.
Sigh. Here we go again.
The experts love the Houston Astros, however. They ignore the fact that the Astros were a third-place team in 2016 and think that, with all of its new additions, Team Nolan has the beef this time to go all the way.
Gotta admit, I’m curious to see how Yulieski Gurriel’s continued adaptation to MLB is going to go. I like the addition of Josh Reddick to the Houston outfield, but picking up Norichika Aoki, not so much. Didn’t the Mariners waive him?
The Astros have also added catcher Brian McCann and designated hitter Carlos Beltran. McCann hit .235 last season, was losing his job in New York, and the Yankees traded him. Beltran, who turns 40 in three weeks, spent two months with the Rangers at the end of last season and signed a drunken-sailor-like $16-million free agent contract with Houston.
Uh, OK. But if the combination of Jonathan Lucroy — a much better catcher — and Beltran couldn’t get the Rangers out of the first round last October, why think that league-average McCann and Beltran are going to propel the Astros any further?
Indeed, Houston should be better this season. They’ve made some upgrades. The websites and the TV guys love upgrades.
Which is probably why the Rangers seem so under-appreciated this April. Their two most meaningful pitching additions have been regular clients in the team training room.
But something called Fansided.com actually dismissed the Rangers’ chances this season because of their “subtractions.”
Wait a minute. If losing Beltran allows Jurickson Profar and the refurbished Delino DeShields to get onto the lineup card more often, that’s a plus, not a minus. And the upgrade from Mitch Moreland to Mike Napoli is so substantial, it will have a ripple effect in the lineup and the clubhouse.
Until the recovering two new pitchers, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, finally take the mound, it’s difficult to measure whether management’s decision to let Derek Holland and Colby Lewis go will pan out.
But the combination of A.J. Griffin, Mike Hauschild and possibly Nick Martinez or Dillon Gee should do fine until Cashner and Ross join the rotation.
The Rangers lost the numbers game last season, but not their second consecutive AL West title. In a way, they were swept in the playoffs by the Blue Jays and by Bill James, whose Pythagorean baseball theorem predicted the Texas demise.
Don’t get me started. I’m a willing student of the new baseball math, but the run differential argument is wrong.
Adrian Beltre’s sore calf muscles aside, it was a relatively quiet buildup to the season for the 2017 Rangers. And why not? They have won the division two years in a row and appear to have all the bases covered to do it again.
As the British would say, keep calm and ignore the experts and websites.
This crystal ball says 95 wins again. Cue the drunken sailor music.