Rangers seek to take the next big step in 2017

Charlie Riedel/AP Photo

Rangers seek to take the next big step in 2017

Rangers

Rangers seek to take the next big step in 2017

By Bob McManaman, azcentral sports

No team won more games in the American League last season than the Rangers, and no team in baseball won as much with so much drama.

The Rangers not only posted an MLB-best 49 come-from-behind wins among their 95 victories, they set a modern-era record by going 36-11 in one-run games for a .766 winning percentage. For the second-straight season, however, their season ended in the division series at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays. They splurged at the trading deadline in hopes of finally bringing a championship to the franchise, but the Rangers ran out of luck once again.

Manager Jeff Banister refused to concede anything after the Rangers were eliminated, telling reporters he has the utmost belief in his players and likes his team’s chances again in 2017.

“I believe in this core group of guys,” he said. “Look at the numbers and how we played all year long – the comeback wins, the one-run wins. “That’s not luck. I’ll argue with anybody that wants to say it’s luck. It’s not luck. It’s a case that they continued to play. They’re very talented. We’re not perfect. No team is perfect.”

A key to the Rangers’ success this season will be the performance of their bullpen, which was shaky at times but managed to set a franchise record a year ago with 56 saves and recorded 41 wins, the most by any bullpen since the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers.

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Top draw

Though he turns 38 in April, third baseman Adrian Beltre remains one of the more dependable stars in baseball and that doesn’t figure to change in 2017. An almost certain Hall of Famer, Beltre finished with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the fourth time in the past seven years for Texas. He also won his fifth Gold Glove award.

Beltre, who is signed through 2018, became the fourth third baseman in history to reach 1,500 career RBIs and he’s just 58 hits shy of 3,000.

Position battle

The top of the starting rotation is set with Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez, but the final two spots have to be nailed down in spring training. The top candidates include newcomers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, young prospects such as Yohander Mendez and Connor Sadzeck. A.J. Griffin, Allen Webster are also being considered.

Ross, who turns 30 in April, likely won’t be ready for Opening Day following surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. From 2013-15 with the Padres, he logged 516 1/3 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

Cashner, 30, spent parts of five seasons with the Padres and had his moments, but his ERA has ballooned the past two years and his walks have gone way up. He still has an above-average fastball however and he can still induce groundballs on nearly half the balls put in play against him.

Breaking in

He’s just 23, but second baseman Rougned Odor has shown he can pack a punch. His right hook to the face of Toronto slugger Jose Bautista went viral, and he smacked 33 home runs in just his third MLB season.

The Venezuelan scored 89 runs, drove in 88 more and also stole 14 bases. He had difficulty reaching base on a consistent basis, but the Rangers feel confident he’ll be able to reach base more than 30 percent of the time given that he hit .271 last season and should trend upward this year.

Manager: Jeff Banister.

Last season’s record: 95-67.

Big changes: Texas brought back Mike Napoli for a third time. He likely will be the starting first baseman. The Rangers also invited two other big bats to spring training: James Loney and Josh Hamilton on minor-league deals. Center fielder Carlos Gomez was re-signed, but a handful of regulars left via free agency, including Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Colby Lewis.

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