Rangers face many questions in 2014
Injuries put damper on chances, but a late surge could keep Texas in playoff hunt
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The start of the 2014 season is nearly upon us and that means the annual task of attempting to predict what's going to happen in the upcoming Texas Rangers' campaign.
ESPN Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney
Buster Olney talks to Richard Durrett about the rash of injuries the Rangers have experienced this spring. Plus, Jerry Crasnick helps Buster preview the AL Central.
How did we do last year? The prediction was 89-73, second in the AL West and an AL wild-card spot. Turns out the Rangers went 91-72 and that wasn't enough to claim a wild-card spot, as Texas lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 163.
There were plenty of changes made this offseason. Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski are gone. Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are in the lineup and there are new starting pitchers to add to the depth of the rotation. And after a crazy, injury-filled spring, the Opening Day pitching staff and roster looks much different than anyone expected. Heck, even the stadium has a new name -- Globe Life Park. Here's a look at how we think the 2014 season will unfold month-by-month:
Key home games: The season starts off with the Philadelphia Phillies for a three-game set, which will include facing former Ranger Cliff Lee on Opening Day. The divisional slate gets going early as well as Houston and Seattle come in for seven games in the first long homestand of the season (10 days), which also includes the Chicago White Sox. ... Oakland also comes to town, meaning the Rangers will have played every AL West team at home except the Angels before April is over.
Key road games: The schedule-makers didn't do the Rangers any favors with their first road trip, which includes a three-game set in Tampa Bay, followed by three in Boston. The team does play an afternoon game Sunday to give it more time to get to Boston, but the Rangers will be traveling all over early. ... Texas goes from the East to the West as it plays Oakland and Seattle on the road near the end of the month in AL West play.
Scheduling tidbits: Texas gets three off days in April and all of them are Thursdays. ... After April's three games in Tampa Bay, the Rangers won't see the Rays again until mid-August in Arlington. ... Texas has 14 different CT starting times in April.
2013 rewind: The Rangers were 17-9 in March and April in 2013, getting off to a hot start by taking advantage of a favorable schedule and the fact that the Angels didn't start the season well.
Prediction: 13-15. The injury situation makes this opening month a tough one. The job of this team is to just hang in there and not fall too far back early. We'll also get a better sense of how much the Mariners have improved, and if they haven't improved as much as it appears on paper, the Rangers could bank some more wins. But with some tough road trips and the injuries, the Rangers get off to a so-so start.
Key home games: The Rangers get the quirky two-game series twice in May -- against the Colorado Rockies from May 7-8 and Seattle from May 20-21. ... Schedule includes just 10 home games in May, including six against teams from the AL East -- the Red Sox and Blue Jays for three games each.
Key road games: It's an interesting mix of teams on the road for Texas in May. ... The first Angels series comes right away, May 2-4, in Anaheim. ... Texas also has an 11-day road trip through Detroit, Minnesota and Washington.
Scheduling tidbits: The first time Fielder will face his old team -- and the Rangers will face former second baseman Kinsler -- is May 22-24 in Detroit. ... Rangers fans who want to see the defending champion Red Sox will get just one shot: May 9-11. ... Texas has six afternoon games in a nine-day period, all on the road. That includes three weekday afternoon games -- May 22 in Detroit and May 26 and 29 at Minnesota.
2013 rewind: Texas distanced itself from many AL teams with a 17-11 May. The Rangers were 34-20 through the first two months of the season.
Prediction: 15-13. The Rangers play some teams that should yield series wins for Texas -- the Astros, Blue Jays and Twins. They should also start getting some pitchers back, which will help.
Key home games: Kinsler and the Tigers come to town June 24-26. ... A bunch of familiar faces return when the Baltimore Orioles, full of former Rangers on the roster, come to Arlington for a three-game set. ... Texas has a nine-game homestand early in the month, which includes a two-game series with the Miami Marlins. It's the first time the Marlins have come to Arlington since 2011.
Key road games: The Rangers head west to face Seattle, Oakland and the Angels with a day off before the trip, one during it and another after it's over. In all, it's a 12-day span in the middle of the month. ... The month starts with the final game of the Nationals series in D.C. and ends with the beginning of the Baltimore series on the road.
Scheduling tidbits: It should be an interesting three nights in late June when Kinsler, after his comments in an ESPN The Magazine article in March, comes to Arlington for the first time wearing a Tigers jersey. ... The Twins make their only trip to Globe Life Park during the season. ... We should get a better sense of how the division stacks up after the Rangers get done with a swing out west. They'll have played each division team at least twice in the first three months.
2013 rewind: The club battled injuries and went 14-14 in June last year on its way to a bit of a summer swoon before rebounding in August.
Prediction: 17-9. Lots of home games and well-timed off days make this a month to collect some wins, despite some challenging series.
Key home games: Of the 13 home games in July, 10 are against AL West opponents. ... Texas welcomes both the Angels and A's to town with the Angels playing a four-game set before the All-Star break and the A's a three-game series later in the month. ... The New York Yankees make their only trip to Arlington as well July 28-30, just before the trade deadline.
Key road games: The Rangers will be in a New York state of mind as they play three games at Citi Field against the Mets from July 4-6 and then four at Yankee Stadium from July 21-24 before facing the Yankees in Texas the next week. ... The Rangers will need passports as they head to Toronto July 18-20.
Scheduling tidbits: Of the Rangers' 26 games in July, 10 of them -- 38 percent -- come against the New York teams. ... Texas will play in New York against the Mets on July 4. It's a rarity that the Rangers aren't at home over that holiday. ... The four games in Yankee Stadium come right before the Hall of Fame ceremony weekend, which includes Rangers consultant Greg Maddux and broadcaster Eric Nadel.
2013 rewind: Texas went 11-15 in the month of July, which included losing 12 of 15 around the All-Star break (lost four of five before and eight of 10 after).
Prediction: 11-15. Something tells me that despite the break, the Rangers' schedule gets them in July. Three games in Baltimore won't be easy. Having to start the second half in Toronto isn't great. And there are difficult series at home.
Key home games: There aren't many, but the club has an interesting seven-game homestand in the middle of the month against the Rays and Angels. ... The Royals also come to Texas for three games.
Key road games: Texas travels to five different cities during the month. ... The Rangers make two trips to Houston, including one right after a three-game series in Seattle. ... Texas has two games in Miami against the Marlins.
Scheduling tidbits: Perhaps August isn't a bad month to have a bunch of road games with the temperatures so hot in Texas. ... The Rangers have the odd off day before a two-game series with the Marlins, and then after it as well.
2013 rewind: 20-7. After a rough July, the Rangers rebounded with a strong August that began in the middle of a strong stretch. Starting on July 29, Texas won 13 of 14 games. The Rangers were in first by as many as three games during the month.
Prediction: 14-14. The Rangers take advantage of games against the Astros and White Sox, but the travel impacts them, too.
Key home games: A ton of them. ... Texas gets to play 17 of its final 23 at home. ... The Atlanta Braves come to town for a three-game series in September, the only NL team that the Rangers play during the month. ... Every AL West team comes to Arlington for one series in September.
Key road games: The three-game set in Oakland Sept. 16-18 looks like a big one, doesn't it? ... The month begins with three games in Kansas City.
Scheduling tidbits: While August is spent in a suitcase, September is spent at home. That's a trade-off the Rangers will take. Four games against the A's at the end of the season in Arlington -- and perhaps the three on the road the week before -- could decide the division.
2013 rewind: A 12-16 September doomed the Rangers, who lost to Tampa Bay in Game 163 to miss out on a postseason berth. ... Texas lost 12 of the first 14 games in September to miss out on any chance at the AL West title. ... The club won seven straight to end the season just to force Game 163.
Prediction: 16-10. The Rangers will be able to string some wins together late to make things interesting in the postseason race.
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86-76 (2nd in AL West)
Before spring training started, I had this team at 88 wins and making the second wild-card spot as a close runner-up to the Oakland A's in the division. But after a stunning number of injuries and a rotation to open the season that includes just one name that was expected to be there, how can you predict 88 wins now?
At 86 wins, the Rangers fall short of the playoffs. There are too many questions with the rotation as the season begins. If they stay healthy and get a boost from Derek Holland's return, the lineup should score enough runs to keep them in the hunt for the division title. But they'll likely need a late surge to get in.