Strong rotation and solid offense make Rangers one of the favorites to win the AL West

A bobbled grounder, an errant throw, a missed catch, a bloop and a bomb. That was the sequence, over a span of only 17 pitches, in which the Texas Rangers unraveled in October.

Nine outs away from a division series-clinching victory in Toronto, Texas committed three consecutive errors and gave up a long three-run home run to Jose Bautista that capped a four-run seventh inning, giving the Blue Jays a 6-3 victory in Game 5.

Six months later, the implosion still reverberates through the Rangers clubhouse.

"That's something I really have in my mind right now that I'll be using the right way," shortstop Elvis Andrus, who committed two of those errors, said during spring training. "That inning made me understand that you can't lose focus for even a couple of minutes because everything can happen in a blink of an eye."

Jeff Banister, who guided Texas to the American League West title in his first year as manager, tried to drive that point home in the wake of a loss that took the starch out of the Rangers' surprising summer surge.

"The first thing Banny said to the team after the game was, 'Let it fuel you. Remember this feeling and work to not feel it again,' " General Manager Jon Daniels said.

"I don't know if it's changed anything we've done this spring. It's an extremely driven group, and I'm not sure if we need additional motivation. But if it helps some of the guys focus their energy, then it can be a good thing."

With the club the Rangers have assembled this spring, they should be in position for redemption come fall.

Texas had a record of 45-24 over its final 69 games in 2015, including a three-game sweep of Houston in August and a four-game sweep of the Astros in September, to erase a nine-game deficit.

Houston, with reigning Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and its stable of young stars, is a popular pick to win the AL West this season. But an argument can be made that the Rangers, who edged out the Astros by two games last year, should be even better.

They'll have ace left-hander Cole Hamels, who had a 7-1 record and 3.66 earned-run average in 12 starts after being acquired from Philadelphia in July, and key setup men Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman, both acquired July 31, for the whole season.

Starters Derek Holland and Martin Perez, left-handers who sat out four months in 2015 because of shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively, appear sound.

And the rotation should receive a huge boost by early June when right-hander Yu Darvish, a three-time All-Star who is 39-25 with a 3.27 ERA in three seasons, returns from reconstructive elbow surgery.

"The rotation we have now looks pretty solid," Andrus said. "Knowing we're going to have Darvish in the third month … it's like making the best trade of the year."

The rotation, which will include right-hander Colby Lewis, won't measure up to those of the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, but it could rival any in the AL.

"On paper, when you think about the names and what they've done, it does have the potential to be a pretty dynamic rotation," Banister said. "But again, we have to keep them healthy."

Darvish is about a year removed from elbow ligament-replacement surgery and has made significant strides this spring. Many pitchers return from the procedure in 12 months, but the Rangers added two months to Darvish's rehabilitation program to increase the chances for a full recovery.

"I'm of the mind-set that the best pitchers, when they come back from this surgery, they don't take a long time to get back to a top level," Daniels said. "They kind of jump right in. … You're talking about one of the top handful of pitchers in the world. He's in his prime. He's in tremendous shape."

The bullpen is anchored by closer Shawn Tolleson, who had a 2.99 ERA with 35 saves, 76 strikeouts and 17 walks in 72 1/3 innings in 2015; Dyson, whose 96-mph fastball is described by Banister as "a bowling ball sinker;" and the left-handed Diekman, who throws 97 mph from a lower arm slot.

Hard-throwing right-handers Keone Kela, who had a record of 7-5 with a 2.39 ERA as a rookie; Tom Wilhelmsen, acquired from Seattle; and right-hander Tony Barnette, who returns to the U.S. after six seasons in Japan, add depth.

"To count on the same three or four relievers to carry the load all year long is asking a lot," Daniels said. "We wanted to give Banny some other options so he can mix and match, keep guys fresh but still have enough pieces ready to roll."

The lineup is deep and balanced, with the speed of leadoff man Delino DeShields (25 stolen bases in 2015) and the on-base ability of Shin-Soo Choo (.375) and Prince Fielder (.378) ahead of 20-home run threats Adrian Beltre, Mitch Moreland and new left fielder Ian Desmond.

Andrus (25 stolen bases) adds speed, and second baseman Rougned Odor (16 home runs, 61 runs batted in) and catcher Robinson Chirinos (10 home runs) add some pop to the bottom of the order.

Texas ranked third in the AL with 751 runs last season, 114 more than it scored in 2014. There is no reason to believe the Rangers can't be just as — or more — productive in 2016.

"It's more of a one-through-nine approach," Daniels said. "We don't have the same power we had in the past, but we do have a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the park. We tried to put a lineup together that has no easy out, where the pitcher can totally take a breath and relax."

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on April 03, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Heart of texas is deep - An outstanding pitching staff makes the Rangers one of the favorites to win the American League West" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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