Can the Texas Rangers stay atop the AL West in 2016?

The Texas Rangers had a bounce-back season in 2015, finishing atop the AL West with 88 wins. Behind a resurgent season from Prince Fielder, and the mid-season acquisition of Cole Hamels, the Rangers hung on to win the West by two games over the upstart Houston Astros. The Rangers were led by the steady hand of American League Manager of the Year Jeff Banister, and also received outstanding performances from Yovani Gallardo, and Shawn Tolleson along with Rougned Odor‘s clutch play down the stretch. The question heading into 2016 is whether or not the Rangers be able to maintain their perch atop the division.

The AL West is stacking up to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball once again. The young Astros are looking to build on last season’s 86 wins and Wild Card berth, and the Anaheim Angels and Seattle Mariners have had a busy start to the offseason, retooling their rosters with the eye on the playoffs in 2016.

Texas is relying on their biggest additions to the 2016 squad coming from a return to health of a number of key players. The biggest name coming off injury is Yu Darvish. Darvish missed all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery, but is expected to be ready to start Spring Training with the club.  If healthy, Darvish and Hamels will form an excellent 1-2 punch atop the Rangers rotation. Along with Darvish, the Rangers are counting on a healthy Derek Holland, and former top prospect Jurickson Profar bouncing back from injury filled seasons.

Another strength for the Rangers should be their bullpen. GM John Daniels worked his magic with the pen at the trade deadline adding power arms Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson to bridge the gap in the middle innings to their new late inning stopper Tolleson. The Rangers also can rely on Keone Kela and newly signed Tony Barnette to fill out their middle relief core. As everyone learned from the Royals the past few seasons, as strong bullpen can shorten games and make the difference in close games.

The Rangers offense finished third in the AL in runs last year but does have a few question marks. The biggest question mark with the offense is Josh Hamilton. It appears Hamilton’s best years are behind him, but can he stay on the field enough to provide additional pop in the heart of the order? Along with the questions surrounding Hamilton, one has to wonder if Mitch Moreland and Delino DeShields can repeat their success from last year. If DeShields and Hamilton are not effective, the Rangers will have some holes to fill in the outfield. As it stands now, the only additional outfield options appear to be Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua, but neither has produced at the big-league level. Elvis Andrus returns for another year at shortstop, but his offensive numbers are largely unspectacular. Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre will once again be counted on to man the hot corner and bat in the middle of the lineup along with Prince Fielder.

The return of Profar should give Bannister some flexibility at second base and either he or Odor can afford Beltre some needed days off. Shin-Soo Choo will be relied upon to be a run producer at the top of the lineup and provide steady defense in right field.

The AL West pennant race will likely come down town late September once again. Texas has a solid core of players and a GM who is not afraid to make moves to bolster their team down the stretch. As things stand now, there is no reason to believe that Rangers fans shouldn’t be looking forward to late October baseball again in 2016.

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