By David Mullen
Poor Dallas sports fans. The Cowboys, coming off a 9-7 2017 season, have done virtually nothing in the off-season, except for the NFL emptying Jerry Jones’ pockets for $2 million and getting a ruling that Dez Bryant’s 2014 playoff catch against the Green Bay Packers was actually a catch. We already knew that.
The Stars are in an epic slide that has taken them out of playoff contention and have fans confused and reeling. The Mavericks may not win 25 games this season and are lobbing for a favorable lottery position in the 2018 NBA Draft. But don’t fret. The Texas Rangers season is beginning and, as Alexander Pope said, “Hope springs eternal.”
But Thomas Norton said, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” Norton must have been a Rangers fan.
While other teams have built strong clubs from within, accumulated young talent for the future, filled in pitching gaps with proven entities and look toward the playoffs, the Rangers are as big a mess as the under-construction Globe Life Field after an Arlington thunderstorm.
What adds insult to injury is that World Champion Houston Astros are less than 240 miles away down Interstate 45. The Astros paced patiently to grow talent and then pounced on the rest of the league. The keystone duo of league MVP Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa is the best in baseball. Their starting pitching goes five-deep, with Houston able to reap the benefits of a full season from Justin Verlander. The Astros are young and hungry for another crown.
The Los Angeles Angels made off-season headlines by signing Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, who was underwhelming in spring training. But they still have all-world Mike Trout, and brought in offensive weapons in Justin Upton and former Ranger Ian Kinsler. They will finish second, but more than double digits behind Houston in the standings. The Seattle Mariners seem to be built for another season around .500. The Oakland A’s are rebuilding the right way, and have potential stars in Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. They will make mistakes, but at least the young players will get a chance to play and mature.
The Rangers could finish anywhere from second to fifth place in the division. I think the bottom is the most likely. They have young players in Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields, Jr., but lack discipline at the plate. They are banking on career renaissances from pitchers Matt Moore and Doug Fister and will even give 44-year-old Bartolo Colón a chance. They are considering the unheard of six-man rotation.
The Rangers are too one-dimensional. They hit home runs, but have low on base percentages. Eight players had more than 100 strikeouts in 2017, and all but one are back. They don’t field particularly well. Except for shortstop Elvis Andrus, who finally seems to be maturing, there is just not enough versatility. At least Adrián Beltré is still around. It is time for GM and one-time wunderkind Jon Daniels to take responsibility for assembling a team clearly going backwards.
The Central Division will be all Cleveland Indians. Manager Terry Francona has them thinking big, even though most people can’t name three players in their starting lineup. The only threat in the division comes from the Minnesota Twins, which just lost Jorge Polanco to an 80-game suspension for PED use. The Chicago White Sox are on the rise, especially with at least three minor league pitching prospects on the horizon, but have awful pitching on the major league roster. The Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers are in a complete rebuilding mode.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the beasts in the East. Ironically, both enter the year with first year managers Aaron Boone (New York) and Alex Cora (Boston). The Yankees could benefit the most with a likeable Boone replacing hardnosed Joe Girardi. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton make up an unbelievable one-two punch. Both hit more than 50 home runs last year, and Stanton was the National League MVP in 2017 then cast away in a cost-cutting move by the Miami Marlins.
Boston may not have the power of the Yankees — despite adding J.D. Martinez in free agency — but appear to have superior pitching. Over any pitcher the Yankees can start, give me Chris Sale of the Red Sox for a must-win. These teams are very close, but I think the Red Sox will win the division and the Yankees will gain a Wild Card slot.
The Toronto Blue Jays will rely on six everyday players including Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitski, Curtis Granderson and Kendrys Morales that are over 30. The Baltimore Orioles best players Adam Jones and Manny Machado are in their final contract years and Machado, for certain, will be looking to get out of town. And the Tampa Bay Rays are looking for new players, a new stadium and potentially, a new city. They have replaced the heart and soul of the team, third baseman Evan Longoria (traded in December 2017 to San Francisco), with unproven Matt Duffy.
With the Twins losing Polanco for half of the season, I think the Angels will face the Yankees in the Wild Card game. The Astros will beat the Yankees in the ALDS, and will play Boston after they dispatch Cleveland. The Astros will go to the World Series one more time and face the Washington Nationals, with Houston winning its second straight World Championship.
As for the Rangers, all they can do is hope.