Texas Rangers fans had an awful 2017. Their team, slated to defend their two consecutive American League West titles, fell victim to injuries and poor roster construction on their way to a gruesome 78-84 record.
Not only that, but fans in Arlington had to sit through bitter rivals Houston – from whom Texas finished 23 games behind in the division race – win the World Series and bring the state of Texas the Commissioner’s Trophy for the first time.
You can could say Rangers fans, and the team as a whole, deserve some success after 2017. When all you had to hang your hat on was the milestone 3,000th hit from future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Beltre, the season left a bad taste in the mouth of the Dallas area’s faithful. The problem is, it almost certainly will not culminate into a Fall Classic berth.
To think the Texas Rangers are immediate contenders for the World Series would be absurd. The window for a championship has closed, but not without an extremely successful run of the past seven years: two American League pennants, four AL West division titles, five postseason berths, and forcing a “Game 163 tiebreaker in 2013 before losing to the Tampa Bay Rays.
However, the Minnesota Twins proved this year that the AL Wild Card race is wide open, and it’s entirely possible to squeak into the postseason picture with little more than luck and one strong run. The Rangers are a team that has historically been both streaky and fortuitous (36-9 in one-run games in 2016), meaning an improved team can translate to a postseason berth thanks to these factors and more.
But to pump the brakes on that, the Rangers need more than one desired piece to assemble a playoff-worthy squad. Here are the top-five things on the Rangers’ wish list for the 2018 season.
1) Bullpen Help – And A Lot of It
The marks for the third-worst bullpen earned runs average (4.76), the second-fewest saves (29), the second-highest opponent’s batting average (.268), and the fourth-fewest strikeouts (467) resided in Globe Life Park this season, as the group of Texas Rangers relievers were about as bad as any in Major League Baseball.
It doesn’t help that the Rangers have not had a solid closer in years. This season it was lefty Alex Claudio and righty Matt Bush, in 2016 it was Sam Dyson, before that Shawn Tolleson, Joakim Soria, or Joe Nathan. The closer is the bullpen’s most critical piece, and perhaps the most flawed in Texas.
With proven closers Greg Holland and Wade Davis, and middle-relievers Luke Gregerson, Addison Reed, Pat Neshek, and others on the market, the Rangers need to be ready to spend on a good core of bullpen arms. It’s exactly what ailed them this season.
2) A Healthy Adrian Beltre
If you’ve watched the Rangers in the past decade, you know the core of the team is third-baseman Adrian Beltre. One of their most glaring issues this season was that Beltre, the Texas power-hitting personality, was limited to just 94 games.
Even in those 94 games, Beltre was productive, an indicator of his immense value to the club. Beltre hit .312 with 106 hits, 17 home runs, and 71 RBIs, adding to his impressive .915 on-base plus slugging percentage. That’s a pace of 182 hits, 30 HRs, and 122 RBIs over 162 games.
As Beltre goes, the Texas Rangers go. With 3,000 hits behind him now, the Rangers need nothing more than simple and effective production from their captain at his age of 39. His health is key to a potential playoff run in Arlington.
3) Improved Outfield Defense
It’s only fair to say this first, Nomar Mazara is a wonderful young outfielder. We say this because the rest of the Rangers outfield is severely problematic. To illustrate this issue, we’ll use Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, a baseball-reference.com metric.
Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor are two of the top young sluggers in the American League. All they need now is a new-found sense of consistency at the plate, as both are massive cogs of the Rangers’ offensive scheme.
Neither batter walks a lot, and both specialize in being sluggers, at the plate to hit the ball and nothing else. Gallo and Odor notched a combined 71 long balls, and only 106 combined walks. But even if they aren’t getting on base via walks, they need to bulk up their averages and put themselves in play.
Gallo hit .209, followed by Odor’s .204 batting average. To wish for an improvement in the two infielders’ consistency at the plate is not too much to ask for, and hopefully the two young guns (Gallo is 24, Odor 23 respectively) can enhance their plate discipline as 2018 rolls forward.
5) Revamped Starting Rotation
The Texas Rangers starting rotation must now prepare for life without Yu Darvish, their former number-one starter out of Japan. It’s clear that their rotation is depleted of top-end talent, and in the MLB regular season, you can’t survive without solid starters.
Cole Hamels and Martin Perez are expected to return, but after that, things start to thin out in the Texas starting rotation. With a bounty of free agent starters prepped for free agency payouts, the Rangers have to put their eyes on guys like Alex Cobb, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Michael Pineda.
This, of course, is if the Rangers aren’t re-upping on Andrew Cashner, or somehow getting Darvish back in the fold. All eyes are on Japanese fireballer Shohei Otani, but the Rangers need to look for starting pitching anywhere they can get it.