Mission possible: Rangers ready to finish job in '13
Despite losses of Hamilton, Young, club confident it can achieve ultimate goal
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have played excellent defense in Spring Training and have regained their aggressive baserunning style. The offense has taken to the instructions of hitting coach Dave Magadan by grinding out at-bats and finding ways to score plenty of runs.
The fifth-starter spot is up in the air -- hardly unique for any team at the end of Spring Training -- but the first four consists of three All-Stars in Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Alexi Ogando, along with Derek Holland, who has pitched in the World Baseball Classic and won some big games in the postseason.
W: Norris L: Harrison SV: Bedard
The bullpen has some concerns, but Joe Nathan is locked in as closer coming off one of his best seasons, and Joakim Soria could bring reinforcement in May. As general manager Jon Daniels said, the bullpen is likely to be a work in progress well into the season.
The Rangers also know they have the financial flexibility and a deep farm system that will allow them to be aggressive in pursuit of any additions they feel they need to make during the course of the season.
Josh Hamilton and Michael Young have departed and the Rangers missed on some other targets during the winter, most notably pitchers Zack Greinke and James Shields. But that hasn't deterred the club's belief in its overall mission.
The Rangers open the 2013 season on Sunday against the Astros with the goal of winning their division, going deep into the playoffs and ultimately bringing a World Series championship to Arlington. Nothing has happened to change that, and the Rangers do not go into 2013 believing this is some sort of "transition" season. The Rangers believe this team is built to win.
"No doubt about it, we're a contender," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We have been one of the best teams in the big leagues the last three years. I don't expect anything to change this year."
The Rangers know that the Angels have loaded up with Hamilton in their lineup, the Athletics are the defending division champions with their talented young pitching, and even the Mariners should be better with an upgraded offense.
But when you've been to the playoffs three straight years, gone to two World Series and won 279 regular-season games in that span, it's hard not to feel confident when designated hitter Lance Berkman and catcher A.J. Pierzynski join a team that still has many of the same players that were responsible for their overall impressive three-year run.
"We're ready to go," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We've got high expectations, but as a team, we've got to go out and perform and make it happen, and not just talk. It's going to be a battle. It's not going to be as easy as in years before, because of the changes we've made. But we feel we have a good enough team to compete in this league."
The late-season collapse of last season is fading from memory in the Arizona sun.
"I think we lost energy," Kinsler said. "You can say we got used to winning or took it for granted, but I don't think that's completely accurate. I just think we hit a tough stretch at the end of the season. But I think this year you're going to see a very steady team."
Nothing is guaranteed. Athletics general manager Billy Beane said the Rangers were the best team in baseball for almost the entire 2013 campaign. But the surprising A's were the ones who blew past the Rangers in the final week to win the division title. The Rangers were left to play in the American League Wild Card game and lost to the Orioles, another team that few, if any, predicted would be playing in postseason.
The Rangers simply look at the team they are going to put on the field Sunday night against the Astros and feel good about their chances. Others may have serious doubts -- one Las Vegas sports book gives the Rangers worse odds to win the AL than the injury-riddled Yankees. There is also the unexpected. The single biggest reason why the Rangers faded last year was because their starting rotation was clobbered by injuries.
There is also the unexpected. The Yankees will open the season with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list. The Dodgers are nervous about Greinke's cranky right elbow, and they've already lost shortstop Hanley Ramirez to a thumb injury.
But the Rangers go into the season healthy and with the team that still has a lot of talent, no matter what transpired during the offseason.
"There are All-Stars up and down this lineup," outfielder David Murphy said. "It would be easier to name the guys who haven't been All-Stars. And as far as our starting rotation, this is the best it has been going into the season since I've been here."
The Rangers will start finding out on Sunday night just how good they are. But the mission remains the same and the confidence remains high. So far, they have little reason to think otherwise.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.