And So it Begins …

Sure, we all have an opinion. More importantly, we all bring one to the table when discussing the best sports day of the year. Some may shout that the NCAA tournament tip-off will always get their blood rushing the most. But I guess we can counter that with something about how no one cares to watch the First Four(after all, no team like VCU could possibly win anything but a play-in game, right?). Many claim that Super Bowl Sunday is the best. Hell, we as Americans do use that day to consume the most food out of any other day during the year. But by the time the Super Bowl rolls around, some fans (depending on who you’re rooting for) are already weeded out. Though both of those are spectacular days, I have my own submission for the suggestion box.

My bored followers, rejoice, as Opening Day is almost upon us (I didn’t mean to make that line sound like something out of a “Olney Bible”). Whether you enjoy the game of baseball or not(and I actually do know a few helpless souls who don’t), there is always one huge rebuttal that the Opening Day fanatic has the right to use against his First Four and Super Bowl Sunday nemesis. (The following script was written for Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington but they were unavailable):

Guy 1: Wanna go out and grab a couple beers tonight?

Guy 2: No can do. Its opening day. I’m booked.

Guy 1: Seriously?? Who cares about that? Just catch the other 161 games.

Guy 2: Dude, but we’re in first right now.

Boom. Roasted.

Though a team can win on any given Sunday in the gridiron, we can practically eliminate a few teams from contention before their first kickoff. In the NBA we pretty much know before the first tipoff who will be battling for playoff seeding (besides the last seed in the eastern conference, which always seems to be given to a 20 game winner). But baseball? Right now, no matter where you are or who you root for, your team is in a fight for first. According to everyone, this is your teams’ year. Except for Pirates fans (my apologies Pittsburgh, but I can only fall in the “top prospects” bear trap so many times. Even your walkout was a failure last season).

Coming off of a season where they were runners up in the World Series, many have said that the Texas Rangers are in prime position to do it all again. Yes, they lost their savior and ace Cliff Lee to free agency in the offseason. But as a lefty, new opening day starter C.J Wilson had to learn SOMETHING from Lee….right? Well Ranger fans, I’m not sure if it’s the instilled negativity in me that I’ve received from being a life-long fan, but something in this team doesn’t feel right.

Being the eve of the final spring training game this afternoon, let’s go ahead and discuss everything we need to pay attention to as the season progresses.

  • As mentioned before, Lee’s absence leaves a gaping hole at the front of the rotation. He did practically nothing during the last half of the regular season for Texas(1-4, 6.35 ERA) but shined once in the spotlight(3-0 in the ALDS/ALCS). Now the torch has been passed to two men who are hoping to keep this thing moving forward. Wilson finished last season tied for 18th in the league in wins(15) while Colby Lewis finished 16th in K’s(196). But can C.J compete with the likes of Lester, Sabathia, or King Felix on a nightly basis? Even more so, can Lewis(who has been said by many to be poised for a breakout year) prove his statistics last season weren’t a flash in the pan? The Rangers believe so much so that they’ve put the rest of the rotation on the shoulders of these two starters. Which leads us into our next unsettling issue…
  • Questions about the back end of the rotation were being raised even before the Tommy Hunter injury took place. Now, with the 3rd and 4th spots being filled by two guys who were both at one time demoted last season(Derek Holland and Matt Harrison), the shoe-in setup pitcher Alexi Ogando will be filling in for “Big Game” Hunter until his projected mid-May return. It still remains to be seen whether Ogandos arm is stretched out enough to be an every fifth day starter. But assuming he can go 6-7 innings every outing, we are still left with another particular problem.
  • Through much arguing and debating, 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz remains in the bullpen. His 40 saves last season were ranked 5th in the majors. But spring training failed to show an 8th inning pitcher who was ready to be the Robin to our closing Batman. Mark Lowe(12.00), Darren O’Day(8.00), and Arthur Rhodes(12.71) all received a chance to win the setup gig but instead put up those abysmal ERAs. Darren Oliver would be the leading candidate, but Washington figures to give him rest in order to not burn him out before the post season again. If the Rangers can find a go to guy in the late innings, they’re confident Neftali will remain superb. But that’s not only a huge IF, but one of many.
  • For 10 seasons as the unquestionable captain of the Rangers, Michael Young has done nothing but perform. He has batted .300 six times and eclipsed the 200 hits mark another five times. His leadership on and off the field has put him in the all-star game at five different points in his career. But now, with frustration aimed towards GM Jon Daniels and a position change in the midst, can Young continue being the man that his Texas teammates and fans have depended on for so long?
  • Finally, a few young players are also currently bringing attention to the club. First baseman Mitch Moreland had an outstanding performance in the World Series(.462, 1 HR, 3 RBI in five games) but can he translate even half of that into the course of a full season? Moreland will also be receiving pressure from Triple A first/third basemen Chris Davis, who’s hellacious performance in Surprise(.362, 5 HR, 18 RBI) will for sure have the managers and GM second guessing his every move.

    Also, can center fielder Julio Borbon perform at the level that manager Ron Washington believes he can? So far, his jaw dropping five errors in spring training say otherwise.

    These questions, and many more, will become a reality beginning Thursday afternoon. Texas fans can only sit and wait to uncover all the answers. But for right now, don’t worry too much. After all, the Rangers are currently in first place.