X factors: Five keys for Rangers
Ian Kinsler's ability to rebound, Lance Berkman's health among keys to '13 fate
Darvish, 26, is coming off a terrific final two months to the season and hopes to continue the trend in 2013, which would make him one of the top pitchers in the league this season. Beltre, fresh off his second straight Gold Glove at third base, was the club's MVP last season and will once again occupy the critical cleanup spot in the order.
Those are two known quantities. But there are five "X factors" for the Rangers in this 2013 campaign. We're talking about players and personnel that will decide the club's fate based on how well -- or poorly -- they do this season. Let's take a look:
Manager Ron Washington has made it clear that Kinsler is his leadoff hitter once again despite a season in which he posted the worst on-base percentage of his career. Kinsler's .326 OPB ranked 11th among qualified AL leadoff hitters; the only player with a worse on-base percentage that led off in at least 100 games was the Rays' Desmond Jennings (.316).
Kinsler also had 18 errors, tying his career high, and his .970 fielding percentage was the lowest of his career. By the other sabermetric stats for fielding, it was a tough year for Kinsler defensively.
Kinsler had 21 stolen bases -- nine fewer than he had in 2011 -- and just 19 homers, the fewest for any season in which he played at least 130 games.
But it was just two years ago that Kinsler was a 30-30 guy (32 homers, 30 stolen bases), and he's still managed to score more than 100 runs each of the past two seasons. In fact, Kinsler's 105 runs in 2012 were second only to Mike Trout among leadoff hitters.
Kinsler is the sparkplug of the offense and the guy that sets the tone to start each game. He has the ability to hit a home run to start things off or get on base and put pressure on the opponent with his legs. The Rangers need that versatile Kinsler to get going again in 2013.
Darvish figured things out late last season and is expected to be even more consistent this year. Few pitchers for the Rangers are more consistent than Matt Harrison, who won 18 games last season and has posted an ERA around 3.35 the past two seasons. He's also shown an ability to eat up innings.
Holland becomes the tipping point. If he jumps up and pitches close to how he did in the second half of 2011, the Rangers' rotation tips in a good direction. Holland was 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA in his final 15 regular season starts that season. And he was magnificent against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series.
But that didn't carry over to 2012. Holland went on the disabled list with left shoulder fatigue, had some illness issues and never could get into a rhythm. He finished with a 12-7 record and a 4.67 ERA in 29 games (27 starts).
Holland is focused on improving this season and is embracing the fact that he's under pressure to deliver this season.
He's not in the rotation right now. But he's lurking. That's important for the Rangers, who dealt with injury issues as they attempted to find an internal candidate for the fifth spot.
Lewis is ahead of schedule with his rehab. When healthy, he's proven since he returned from Japan prior to the 2010 season that he can eat up innings and be productive.
How well Lewis returns from the surgery will help determine how deep the rotation is during the course of the season.
Lewis has remained upbeat throughout his rehab and is confident he can return to form. He's tough, having dealt with a hip condition for a few years, and was the club's top postseason pitcher in 2010 and 2011. So getting him healthy and productive is important.
Yes, the GM is an X factor. Why? Because the Rangers go into the 2013 with more questions than they have in previous seasons and it will be up to Daniels and his staff to help bolster the club at the trade deadline.
The Rangers may not have their No. 1 status in the minor leagues anymore, but they've got plenty of talent on the farm, especially at the lower levels. How Daniels utilizes those assets to help the club fortify some holes in July could be critical in whether the team makes the postseason.
He's also important in deciding when reinforcements from the minors arrive. Mike Olt is in Triple-A Round Rock and, if he starts hitting, could help the big league team. Jurickson Profar is ready for the majors but doesn't have an everyday job. Martin Perez is rehabbing and could be ready by May. How and when to pull the trigger on roles for those players is an important job. too.
The Rangers talked Berkman out of retirement with a lucrative one-year contract in the offseason. And Berkman showed in spring training that he can still hit.
It was as recent as 2011 that he hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs. He also had one fewer walk than strikeout (93 strikeouts, 92 walks).
It's difficult to expect Berkman to do that again. But what if he comes close? What if he hits .285 and drives in 85 runs but without quite as many homers? He's in the three-hole in the lineup, a spot once occupied by Josh Hamilton. And he knows how important that particular part of the order is to a team.
The big question is health. The Rangers won't ask Berkman to play first base very often, so as to better protect him. But the DH has to have those knees to hit. He had two knee surgeries last year and took a slow and deliberate approach in spring training.
Berkman appears ready for the season. How long he stays healthy will help determine how productive this lineup can be from start to finish.