Gil LeBreton

Rangers should face rough start, but a redeeming July

Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor was 19 when the season started last year. He should be expected to generate more offense this season.
Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor was 19 when the season started last year. He should be expected to generate more offense this season. Star-Telegram

Few times over the past 35 years have the Texas Rangers appeared to be so outmanned and ill-prepared to begin the baseball season.

How do we know this? The Cactus League box scores told us so. And you know how trustworthy they are.

First innings exploded, mostly in Rangers starting pitchers’ faces. Late-inning leads were squandered by a fickle and injury-bugged relief corps. And the ever-shuffling lineup never quite clicked.

Add it all up, and manager Jeff Banister’s first Rangers team won only nine of 33 games in the spring training season. No team in baseball did — or looked — worse.

The Curse-of-Nolan jackals are howling. They told us so, they’re reminding. Thanks to general manager Jon Daniels, the weekly rant goes, the Rangers are imploding, not reshuffling.

And now comes the regular season — Daniels’ nuclear winter.

That’s what the JD-baiters are saying, at least, over and over and (z-z-z-z) over again.

They are right about one assessment, however, if nothing else. For the Rangers to break from the starting gate this season and contend, too many things will have to fall into place too quickly. And they already have lost their best pitcher, Yu Darvish, for the season.

But six months, beginning Monday night in Oakland, is a long time. Wounded players heal. Spring sensations flop. Teams evolve.

And the ones that are girded for the long haul tend to survive.

That’s what Daniels is hoping will be different this time around.

The GM is eager to see what the impact of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, finally in the same lineup for an extended period, will be.

Take away the two injury seasons in Choo’s 10-year career, and he’s a .292-average, .860-OPS hitter. And Fielder, whose big swing appears crippled no more, has averaged 34 homers and 105 runs batted in.

How anyone can ignore those career consistencies and dwell, instead, on two outlier seasons is not only ignorance but also bad math.

The rest of the cast seems incomplete, but it mostly represents a work in progress. Second baseman Rougned Odor was 19 when the season started last year. There is no reason to think he can’t be an .800 OPS guy. Or that a matured Leonys Martin, already one of the best center fielders in the league, can’t hit .295.

If Fielder hits like the old Prince, Daniels’ pushing Odor from High-A ball to the big leagues was clearly the right call. In 2009, Elvis Andrus went from Double A Frisco to, at age 20, finishing runner-up as American League Rookie of the Year. Derek Holland had only nine starts above the Midwest League before he made the big club and stuck.

Ryan Rua was a 17th-round draft choice in 2011 before winning the left-field job this spring. He’s a grinder on a team that can use a few.

The point is, the Rangers’ farm system has replenished the club before and it likely will again.

And if — still a big if — the ballclub finds itself within arm’s reach of the wild-card chase in July, it should be able to call for help again.

An implosion?

Only an old fool would call a team with Odor, Martin, Rua, Nick Martinez, a mending Martin Perez, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Keone Kela, Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro and Nomar Mazara primed for an implosion.

But that’s the next chapter. The one for April begins Monday night in Oakland, and the critics’ forecasts have not been kind.

Fasten your seat belts, in other words. The light could be on until about July.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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