Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Oakland anymore. After taking three of four from the A's over the course of a week and a half, the M's get a look at one of the favorites to win the American League pennant in what should be a formidable early season test. Six of the Rangers regulars are better than league average at the plate, and they complement their hitting ability with a good defense, a deep rotation, and one of the best bullpens in the league. Considering that the M's won't start Felix Hernandez in any of the four games, they'd have to consider a series split a success.
4/9: 5:05 PM- Hector Noesi vs. Yu Darvish
While much of the world (expect media) will be focusing on Yu Darvish's debut, I'm actually really excited to see... well, Yu Darvish. After signing for $60 million (in addition to the $51.7 million posting fee,) ranking fourth in Baseball America's top 100 rookies and prospect list, and even earning a Cy Young prediction from Dave Cameron, Darvish is the man of the hour. The Japanese-Iranian throws six pitches, including something called a shuuto, which is supposed to break down and in on a right handed hitter at above ninety miles per hour. He also has a four-seamer, a cutter, two sliders, and a slow curve ball, all of which are supposed to have heavy movement. Frightening stuff to say the least.
To be completely outdone, Hector Noesi is also making a debut. Noesi will never be confused with Felix Hernandez, but he will pound the zone with a low nineties heater and he has good command of four pitches. He also posted a ground ball rate north of 40% out of New York's bullpen last year. A strike thrower who can get ground balls? I'll sign up for that.
4/10: 5:05 PM- Blake Beavan vs. Neftali Feliz
Texas has a laundry list of pitchers qualified to start major league games and the Rangers brass are hoping that Feliz can be more than just another cog in the system. He was one of the top rated talents in the game throughout his minor league career, and though he regressed a bit at the end of the 2011 season, Feliz comes armed with a special fastball and a nasty hybrid breaking ball. While there might be some concerns about Feliz's ability to pitch deep into games after working as a reliever for two and a half seasons, the fact that the Rangers were comfortable sending Alexi Ogando (3.51 ERA, 3.65 FIP last season) back to the bullpen to make room him demonstrates the kind of potential he has.
Blake Beavan could not be much more different from his counterpart. As an example, consider that last season (in a down year, mind you) Feliz struck out 7.8 hitters per nine innings pitched; Beavan's ratio was exactly half of that. A former first round pick of the Rangers, Beavan will be making his first ever start at the Ballpark in Arlington.
4/11: 5:05 PM- Kevin Millwood vs. Colby Lewis
Lewis had a huge breakout for the Rangers in 2010: he came back from the abyss to produce nearly 5 WAR and helped lead the Rangers to their first World Series appearance. While he didn't have the same level of success in 2011, a reasonable 4.10 xFIP and an excellent opening day outing last week suggest that Lewis remains one of the better arms in the American League. As an aside, I'll always remember Lewis as the Ranger who started the game that killed the 2010 season. In Cliff Lee's spectacular Mariner debut, Lewis threw nine innings of three hit, ten strikeout ball in what would ultimately be a 2-0 Rangers win. The game ushered in an eight game Mariner losing streak and the M's would never again reach the .500 mark in what would prove to be the most disappointing season in franchise history. I had completely forgotten that the M's actually entered that game (game 23 of the season, no less) with a better record than the Rangers. Baseball has such a long season.
4/12: 11:05 AM- Jason Vargas vs. Derek Holland
It’s cool that the M’s worked their rotation so Felix can start the home opener, but they’ll pay for it Thursday afternoon. Vargas has turned himself into a solid major league starter, but he’s still homer prone and the Rangers are a deadly offensive unit at home. With the exception of Josh Hamilton, their big boppers are all right handed, an ideal set up for teeing off on Vargas.
Derek Holland is coming off a breakout season that saw him post a 3.94 FIP and toss a gem in game four of the World Series. After Darvish, Holland is probably the best candidate to assume C.J. Wilson’s vacated title of staff ace.
C- Mike Napoli
1B- Mitch Moreland
2B- Ian Kinsler
3B- Adrian Beltre
SS- Elvis Andrus
LF- David Murphy/Craig Gentry
CF- Josh Hamilton
RF- Nelson Cruz
DH- Michael Young
Freed from the shackles of Mike Scioscia, Mike Napoli established himself as the best offensive catcher in baseball last season, hitting thirty homers in just 113 games to go along with a .320/.414/.631 slash line… With stellar players all over the diamond, you might find it a bit surprising that Ian Kinsler led the Rangers in WAR last season. Kinsler was fourth in the AL with 7.7 WAR… Adrian Beltre hit twenty-three of his thirty-two homers at home last season, resulting in a preposterous .706 slugging percentage in Arlington… Elvis Andrus is only twenty-three years old and has ten career WAR to his name, but there is a decent chance he finishes his recently signed three year deal somewhere other than Texas. With Jurickson Profar, the best infield prospect in baseball, breathing down his neck, Andrus needs to play like he did last year (4.5 WAR) to feel comfortable at work… Oakland may have Yoenis Cespedes, but Texas can counter with Josh Hamilton… Michael Young had the highest batting average (.338) and second highest OBP (.380) of his career last season.
Mike Adams (R)
Scott Feldman (R)
Mark Lowe (R)
Joe Nathan (R, closer)
Alexi Ogando (R)
Robbie Ross (L)
Koji Uehara (R)
Adams has struck out over a batter per inning throughout his eight year career… It’s easy to forget, but Feldman was the opening day starter and consensus staff ace at the start of the 2010 season; he won seventeen games in 2009…
Fun Fact of the day: Mark Lowe had a plate appearance for the M’s back in 2008. He struck out… It’s too early to talk about a closer losing his job, but after a disappointing 2011 season, Nathan has already blown a save in 2012… If the Ranger bullpen has a weakness, it’s that there aren’t enough lefties. Ross is the lone southpaw and he just made his major league debut this past weekend… between Uehara, Ichiro, Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Muneori Kawasaki, 10% of the players in tonight’s game hail from Japan. I don’t know how to look it up, but I have to figure that at the very least, that ties some sort of record.