Just two days remain til Opening Day, and they are a Friday and Saturday, respectively. Which is pretty sweet. Anyway - lineup, pitchers, record, beer. It's not quite GTL, but it'll have to do. Up next: the Texas Rangers
Lineup: Let's start with the outfield. Julio Borbon is getting a chance to put his wheels to work as the full-time center fielder; best case is that he hits for average and gets on base well while stealing plenny bases. Flanking him are Josh Hamilton, whose talent and injury history are well documented, and Nelson Cruz, who possesses a great power-speed combo. Cruz, though, will have to overcome what we're sure is an enormous mental hurdle in order to perform despite incessant ridicule from his teammates about his appearance in ESPN Magazine's Body issue. Oh, and Vlad Guerrero could see some time out here - though we'll have to, like, light a candle for him, since we're fairly sure that anything beyond DHing would straight up break him at this point. David Murphy is a decent backup, though. As for the infield, Michael Young posted his best season in years while transitioning to third base; his replacement, Elvis Andrus, wasn't much with the stick (though he's barely legal to drink), but was a 3-win player based on his strong defense. Andrus' double play partner is one of the best second basegentlemen in the league; Ian Kinsler has an above-average power/speed combo (we feel like this word gets thrown around a lot with the Rangers) for anyone, let alone someone manning the keystone. Chris Davis will get another shot at the first base job; he has mammoth power, but his contact skills are, to put it very charitably, lacking. Best case for him is a .260 average to accompany his 45 tater tots - and he's going to have to approach the best case in order to stave off Justin Smoak. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden are a catching duo that has underwhelmed to this point, but Salty still has time to make good on his top prospect status, and Tegarden is a defensive whiz - which helps compensate for his below-average bat.
Rotation: This could either be a very strong or a very weak group. Yay firm predictions! Scott Feldman's peripherals suggest that he was far better than his poor ERA suggested, and Rich Harden could put together an enormous season if he stays healthy. Which we're pretty sure is verbatim what every single baseball scribe has written about him since he broke into the league. Ugh. And if the organization is serious about converting C.J. Wilson to the rotation - a decision we simply cannot support - then he'll be the number three starter. He could be decent, we suppose, but he's blocking the far more talented Neftali Feliz. Rounding out the rotation are Colby Lewis - Carson Cistulli's cause celebre - for whom we have high hopes and southpaw Matt Harrison, who could easily be a league average sort of gentleman. Plus with Feliz and assorted other young talent potentially ready to step in, there's plenty of depth for an already talented group.
Bullpen: Finishing games is what Frank Francisco does, and he does it pretty well. He'll be the closer this season, provided he manages to refrain from decking another fan with a thrown folding chair. Neftali Feliz, injustice though it may be, will likely be joining Francisco as a late-inning guy, and should be just as electric as he was last season. Darren Oliver was great for the Angels last season, but he's nearly twice as old as us and doesn't do as well against lefty hitters as you'd expect from a southpaw. Chris Ray is the former Baltimore closer, who had electric stuff prior to Tommy John surgery. Regaining his control has been a struggle, but he's a guy to keep your eye on. Darren O'Day and Dustin Nippert present little in the way of things to complain about; they're perfectly serviceable guys to chew up some innings here and there. Good group overall.
Overall: This is the year that most people predicted the Rangers would be in competition, though this squad surprised most people by being neck and neck with the Angels throughout most of 2009. They're improved, for sure, but the lineup doesn't have much depth and we have our concerns about the young pitchers holding up during what should be a season-long divisional dogfight. They're probably a better team than the Mariners overall - and certainly so when accounting for the wealth of young talent in the farm system - but for some reason we think the M's are juuust going to squeak out the divisional title.
Predicted Record: 85-77, 2nd place AL West
Beer: Shiner Bock. Shiner Bock is a beer that seems to aspire to the darkness of a true bock, but doesn't quite get there - it's far less full-bodied than most bocks, but is still delicious. Similarly, the Rangers are a team that has realistic championship aspirations, but they're not quite on the level of the Big Eastern Three. Both Shiner and the Rangers have come upon a winning formula - Shiner makes a tasty beer, and the Rangers develop phenomenal talent - but it's going to be another year before the Rangers are a serious World Series contender, and it'll take some recipe changes before Shiner Bock becomes a real Bock.