By Lew Patton
Finally, it’s time for baseball. Time to get in the rhythm of checking box scores, watching games, and hanging out at the ballpark. It doesn’t get better than this. Baseball is back and once again, we Ranger fans get a chance to watch the ball team from Arlington try to work their way into the playoffs, even though many issues plague the team again this year.
To make the season fun and interesting, there are some new nuisances and other things to watch out for in this 2015 season. How will Jeff Banister do as the new coach? What about Prince Fielder and Shin Soo Choo? Will we finally be able to see what we bought two years ago come to fruition? Will the Rangers be able to improve upon last year’s tragic record? How will the Ranger pitching staff do after losing Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery?
We are about to find out the answers to those questions very quickly now.
Gentlemen, man your battle stations!
The season starts Monday with an immediate four game set with the division rival Oakland A’s.
They have been to the playoffs three years in a row, but they’ve done it a bit differently each time. Last year we were asking whether they could survive without Jarrod Parker and Grant Balfour.
Heading into 2012 they were the odds-on favorite to be the worst team in the AL West and all they did was win 94 games after shipping out Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus and bringing in Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Parker, Josh Reddick and Brad Peacock. Nothing is as constant as change in the Oakland A’s clubhouse.
And, at least in recent years, the change hasn’t mattered because the same GM is running the show who has seemingly always run the show. And, while no one would ever choose to deal with the particular constraints Billy Beane has to deal with, he has literally been written into a history as a guy who mixes and matches whatever is on hand and somehow always makes it work. Or usually makes it work. He certainly makes it work a lot better with Bob Melvin than he did before. The both of them are just good at putting seemingly disparate pieces together.
So you look at the 2015 A’s, who have lost Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Derek Norris, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, John Jaso and a ton of other players and who have brought in Ike Davis, Ben Zobrist, Jesse Hahn, Billy Butler, Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien and a ton of other players and you could totally, reasonably say “damn, this is a mess.” Or, you could realize that the A’s have shuffled the deck like this almost every offseason, that absolutely no one has had a great handle on what the A’s would do from year-to-year the past several seasons and that, lo and behold, they are usually in the playoffs come October and that, maybe, they’ll be just dandy.
The Home Opener on April 10 vs. the Houston Astros
This is Year 5 of the Astros’ scorched-earth rebuilding plan that has seen them lose 106, 107, 111, and 92 games while overhauling the front office, firing a pair of managers, ditching veterans, and stockpiling young talent. Last year’s 70-92 record was the fourth-worst in baseball and might suggest it’ll be another long season in 2015, but the Astros made big strides in the second half and added plenty of veteran help from trades and signings this offseason.
Clearly general manager Jeff Luhnow believes the Astros are ready to take a big step forward.
Houston went 34-38 over the final 72 games of the season, including 20-20 for the final six weeks. And then they started adding pieces during the offseason. They traded for slugger Evan Gattis, remodeled the bullpen by signing Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson, picked up a starting shortstop by bringing Jed Lowrie back into the fold as a free agent, added Colby Rasmus to the outfield and Luis Valbuena to the infield, traded for a backup catcher in Hank Conger, and gave the rotation depth a boost with Dan Straily and Roberto Hernandez.
None of those are championship-making moves, certainly, but most of them were made with the short-term good of the team in mind and together they clearly signal a shift from full-on rebuilding mode to actually building something. Last season’s five best players–Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Chris Carter, Collin McHugh–are all still around and all 28 years old or younger. And stockpiling young talent in the minors has already started to show some dividends, with another wave of high-end prospects on the way soon led by back-to-back No. 1 picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.
Houston will be better in 2016 than in 2015 and better still in 2017, but the Astros have a chance to be a .500 team this season if a few things break right for them.
4/6 @A’s 9:05 pm
4/7 @A’s 9:05 pm
4/8 @A’s 9:05 pm
4/9 @A’s 2:35 pm
4/10 vs Astros 3:05 pm
4/11 vs Astros 7:05 pm
4/12 vs Astros 2:05 pm