Rangers open with playoff expectations

Rangers open with playoff expectations

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have had a Spring Training unlike any other.

Khalil Greene didn't show up, but manager Ron Washington's transgression from last summer did surface in an untimely manner. There were injuries to pitchers Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, infielder Ian Kinsler and outfielder Josh Hamilton among others.

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They have been celebrating their pitching depth while agonizing over their infield situation. Their rotation fell into place nicely, but their offense has yet to click in as hoped. Their ownership situation remains unresolved.

Through it all, their expectations remain high. This is still a team that expects to compete for and win a division title. Some might deem their expectations too high considering they have had just two winning seasons in 10 years and haven't been to the playoffs since 1999.

But that's not the feeling in the clubhouse as the Rangers march toward Opening Day.

"Absolutely not," third baseman Michael Young said. "We expect to play well, win games, have each others' backs and play hard every night. If we do that, we'll be fine in the win column.

"I like our depth and we have guys who are committed to win. They're not settling for anything less than having the season we should have. It will take a total team effort but we have a bunch of guys who are hungry to win. That hunger is the biggest reason for optimism."

The Rangers need much to fall into place to catch the Angels, who have won five American League West titles in six years. There is also the specter of the Mariners, who are touted to be much improved with the 1-2 combination of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee heading their rotation, and the Athletics with their own core of young pitching.

The Rangers remain undaunted and if club president Nolan Ryan suggests that 92 wins is both reachable and enough to win the division, they aren't about to argue.

"I don't think you can have too high of expectations," outfielder David Murphy said. "Any team is going to have positive expectations but I feel all the expectations that come with this team are realistic. We've got what it takes, now we have to go out, apply our talents and do the little things ... use what we have."

In a drastic development from past years, the Rangers' confidence radiates from their pitching staff. Texas is trying to transform itself into a team that wins because pitching is its strength and not because it can bludgeon other teams offensively.

Texas Rangers
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Julio Borbon
2 3B Michael Young
3 LF Josh Hamilton
4 DH Vladimir Guerrero
5 RF Nelson Cruz
6 1B Chris Davis
7 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
8 2B Andres Blanco
9 SS Elvis Andrus
Projected rotation
1 RHP Rich Harden
2 LHP C.J. Wilson
3 RHP Scott Feldman
4 LHP Matt Harrison
5 RHP Colby Lewis
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Frank Francisco
SU LHP Darren Oliver
SU RHP Chris Ray
SU RHP Neftali Feliz
SU RHP Darren O'Day
MI RHP Doug Mathis
MI RHP Dustin Nippert
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

"People expect us to pitch well and that's a nice feeling to have," pitcher Scott Feldman said.

The Rangers know that Rich Harden never looks that great in spring, but believe he will be ready once the season starts. Feldman was a 17-game winner last year and the club believes he is growing as a pitcher. If Colby Lewis brings with him what he delivered in Japan for two years, Texas will have three solid right-handers to go with C.J. Wilson and Matt Harrison, two left-handers who have enjoyed a terrific spring.

The bullpen takes a hit with Wilson going to the rotation but closer Frank Francisco and left-handed setup reliever Darren Oliver look strong this spring. If Neftali Feliz's prodigious talents re-emerge once again in the 'pen and if Chris Ray and Darren O'Day can get past their Spring Training maladies, the relief unit should be fine. Maybe Dustin Nippert will emerge into a position of prominence after pitching so well in Arizona.

The offense hasn't hit full throttle yet but Julio Borbon has seized the job in center field. Outfielder Nelson Cruz looks much more relaxed and comfortable after his All-Star breakout season of 2009 and Chris Davis looks like he did at the end of last season when he hit .308 with a .496 slugging percentage after an Aug. 25 recall from Oklahoma City.

The Rangers need to figure out the catching situation but it appears that Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden will split the position. The Rangers need to keep Hamilton, Kinsler and Vladimir Guerrero on the field but find themselves in the enviable position of having Murphy as a fourth outfielder. There is still Young, who remains the heartbeat of the team.

The Rangers are all about winning in 2010 and nothing in Spring Training has changed that.

"We expect big things from ourselves in this locker room and we expect to put together a season that is memorable," Kinsler said. "We still have to play the games and perform but I think this season will show what kind of team we are."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.