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Texas Rangers: A Contender in the West?
It's been a long winter for baseball fans especially fans that root for teams that perennially end up at the bottom of the standings.  The cry is always: "Wait 'til next year!  That's where I have found myself for the past several years with the Texas Rangers. 

Hope is never ending for Ranger fans as they have teased us with the long ball and all kind of potential, but we always seem to under-achieve.  Alex Rodriguez was added to a division winning team a few years ago.  Look out World Series here we come.  That was to be our year and the result was (gulp) last place. 

What Happened?

Surely, it would get better, right?  Think again:
  • Last place in 2001
  • Last place in 2002
  • Last place in 2003
  • Third place in 2004 and a winning record.  All right, things are getting better, right?
  • Third place again in 2005, but a losing record.  Now we're going backwards
  • Third place again in 2006 and we still had a losing record.  No October games for the Rangers again.
  • Last place in 2007.  this has not been a good decade
I'm not saying that 2008 looks any better.  We do however have a better offense going into the season than we had last year, so maybe that will help.  The pitching is again a question mark.  Pitchers Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla have the potential and a track record that says that they can compete.  Both had injuries las year so it has been a while since they have been on top of their game.  Jason Jennings has potential, but is also coming off an injury marred year with the Houston Astros last year, so who knows what we can expect from him?  If he can get back to where he was in 2006, 212 innings and a 3.78 ERA, he will be a good addition to the rotation.

The fourth and fifth starter had a little experience in 2007 and did OK with Texas, but will be starting out this season as rookies holding down the back of the rotation.  Louis Mendoza opened a lot of eyes in September last year, but that is just September.  The good news is that his strong performance this spring has convinced the club that he is ready to make the jump from Double A to the majors permanent.

Kason Gabbard, a left handed pitcher who came to the Rangers last year in the Eric Gagne' trade has had a tough spring, but his last couple of outings has looked like he is starting to get his rhythm.  If he and Mendoza can start the season and live up to expectations, this could be a year of imporvement for the Rangers.  I admit that that is a pretty big "if."

The first full year for a young pitcher is not always a promise of stellar performances.  Usually, this will be a time of growing into the starters position for these two youngsters, but that should bode well for coming seasons.

In addition, Brandon McCarthy is a pitcher with talent that we are excited to see pitch this year when he is healthy.  Unfortunately, Brandon will start the season on the disabled list.  Hopefully, he won't be needed, but Rangers history tells us that he will get his chance to pitch extensively this year due to injury or the ineffectiveness of the other starters.

Reasons for Encouragement
No, I am not giving up on this season before it begins.  The team has good position players who, if they play up to their potential, will be good offensively and will score a lot of runs.  In addition, the teams bullpen is a bright spot with J.C. Wilson as closer and Joaquin Benoit as the primary set up man.   Veteran starter Jamey Wright seems to have made the transition to the bullpen after a late season audition in the pen last year.  He has pitched well from the pen, both last year and during the spring this year and most important is that he seems to be excited about the change.  He is looking forward to being a part of the team this year and using his time more productively.

In addition, Hank Blalock will be back at third base after losing most of the season last year due to injury.  Early indication is that he has fully recovered from surgery and is pounding the baseball again as he did before the injuries.

Good new players making the club this year including David Murphy, Josh Hamilton, and Jason Botts have great promise.  Other players with great potential are on the doorstep waiting for the Rangers call.  Players like catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, second baseman German Duran and pitcher Eric Hurley at Triple A Oklahoma and first baseman Chris Davis at Double A may be the best of the almost ready for the major leagues players.  We anticipate that any one or all of these players may be with the club before the season is over.  If they are that means the big club has had some problems with injuries or they are out of the race for meaningful September games or post season games.  If that happens, we'll see some player changes and we will also probably see some of these new players on the Rangers as well.  Ultimately, that will help them get their feet on the ground in the major leagues for next year and for years to come.

Returning veterans are also reasons for hope.  Michael Young has developed into a hitting machine with five straight years with 200 or more hits and an average of 97 RBI's over the past four years which makes him one of the best players in the league.  Ian Kinsler looks like he has made the transition to the major leagues and is fitting into the lead off spot this year after a 20 home run, 20 stolen base season last year and Gerald Laird at catcher looks ready to assert himself this year.  New addition Milton Bradley is coming off knee surgery during the off-season.  If healthy, he will add pop in the line-up  possibly in the DH role to begin with and the field as his knee allows.  Bradley has a history as a solid player with a high on base percentage and RBI's throughout his career.

Reality Prevails
Realistically however, the Rangers will be continuing their rebuilding process this year and probably even next year before we can expect any advances towards post season play.  The good news is that the farm clubs are packed with potential and many are getting close to being major league ready even though they may still a couple of years away.  That gives us all a reason for hope.

Whichever way you look at it, this is going to be an exciting year for the Rangers.  They may end up in last place again, but they will be a better club at the end of the year than they are now.  It will also help set the stage for next year with more good young players and a greater chance to see the post season.  In the meantime, we are predicting a better than expected third place finish for the team with a record of 82 and 80.

By the way, the 2008 season starts this Monday March 31st in Seattle.  The opening day pitcher for the Rangers this year will be Kevin Millwood.  He seems to be healthy after a hamstring pull early in spring training and pitching well so let's hope we get the year off to a good start with a win over a division rival.

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