Looking into my Rangers crystal ball
To be honest, I thought the 2010 Rangers were going to be an intriguing team even before we found out their manager, at age 57, decided to sample cocaine for the first time while on a West Coast road trip last season. Fortunately for Ron Washington, he reports to the type of upper management group we've all dreamed of working for.
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But in their defense, it's not like there's much (if any) precedence in professional sports of a coach or manager experimenting with cocaine during the season. So the Rangers head into 2010 with a manager who dabbled in blow and a star player who's a confirmed drug addict. It's like we've channeled the '86 Mets and brought them to Arlington.
That said, I actually like the Rangers' chances of finally dethroning the Los Angeles Angels of Disneyland. I'm so sick of the smug Mike Scioscia sulking through the first two months of the season and then suddenly flipping the switch and racing past our beloved locals. It makes me sick that the Angels were basically handed lefty Scott Kazmir at the trade deadline while the Rangers were held hostage by a penniless owner.
But before this turns into a Tom Hicks rant, allow me to present my annual Texas Rangers predictions column. Please clip and save, because you'll want to return to this preview many, many times in the coming months:
My breakout player of the year: Last year, shortstop Elvis Andrus played his way into our hearts. But this season, center fielder Julio Borbon is going to be one of the biggest surprises in the American League. He'll struggle in the outfield at times, especially when it comes to hitting cutoff men. But I think he's capable of hitting .290 and stealing 45 bases. When it comes to drag bunts, this kid will bring back memories of Oddibe McDowell.
Player with the biggest bust potential: It has to be alleged ace Rich Harden, who pretty much stunk up the joint in spring training and has Rangers fans yearning for the dependable Kevin Millwood. By the way, Millwood would still be in the rotation if not for the Glorypark regime. Harden's always been a boom-or-bust guy, and his "ace" status is based more on his immense potential rather than his actual numbers. The most important thing for Harden is to stay off the DL for a month or two.
Is something fishy about Colby Lewis? Mike Maddux, aka Pitching Jesus, noticed Lewis was tearing it up while pitching in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp. And as most of you know, carp is an oily freshwater fish native to Europe and Asia. The only reason I know anything about Japanese baseball is because ESPN did a great documentary on Bobby Valentine called "The Zen of Bobby V," which followed his Chiba Lotte Marines team. Lewis has basically been dominating the equivalent of Double-A hitters the past two season, so wake me up when he mows down some actual major leaguers.
Will Chris Davis surpass Rob Deer's strikeout record? Deer no longer holds the record for most strikeouts in a season, but I'll never forget his free-swinging ways for the Brewers. Davis was gaining on him last season when the Rangers mercifully sent him to Triple-A. I honestly think the Longview native has figured out his issues, and perhaps new hitting coach Clint Hurdle will bring a fresh approach to working with Davis. He's one of the best fielders in the game at his position, but he has to learn some discipline at the plate.
Most intriguing storyline of the season: It has to be C.J. Wilson's arrival in the rotation. He earned his chance at a starting role with a strong spring, but he'll be under the microscope because of his penchant for high-pitch innings. He'll have to take a completely different approach as a starter, and it will be exciting to see how it works out. With his flair for the dramatic inning, I would plan on some long evenings when Wilson's on the mound.
Player with the most to prove: That would be Josh Hamilton. His '09 season was derailed by injuries and a late-night photo session. At his best, Hamilton is capable of carrying this offense for weeks at a time. If he can recapture his '08 form, the Rangers have a legitimate shot to win the division.
The biggest question mark: The Rangers' former nemesis Vladimir Guerrero will look odd in blue and white. But if he can bounce back from an injury-filled '09 season, this could be one of the best moves of the offseason. He's one of the best bad-ball hitters of the past decade, if not the best. But it would be naive to ignore his injury history as Guerrero enters his mid-30s. The more I think about it, the Rangers are perhaps the biggest boom-or-bust team in the American League.
How many games will Feldy win? Scott Feldman was one of the best road pitchers in the majors last season. He simply didn't lose when the Rangers ventured out of the Ballpark. But I think he's capable of becoming even more consistent in 2010. I'll just go ahead and put it out there: I think Scott Feldman will win 20 games this season. Maddux and Nolan Ryan have somehow turned this guy into a big-time pitcher. We never pictured him as an ace, but something tells me the role will grow on him.
Can Chuck Greenberg save the outfield grass? As many of you know, Hicks barely watered the grass those last few weeks of the '09 season. Fans tried to pitch in by sneaking fertilizer into the Ballpark, but they were turned away by security guards. Now Greenberg has announced a partnership with the folks at Scotts lawn service. With the Hicks regime, saying the grass was greener in other organizations was true both figuratively and literally. But Greenberg's got plenty of grass. Wait, that's probably not the best way to phrase things with this team.
Matt Mosley writes weekly on the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.