30 Clubs in 30 Days: Texas Rangers

Former USC quarterback Sam Darnold reportedly had a really good pro day (in the rain, no less), where a significant portion of the Browns’ staff was in attendance. This makes it all the more likely that Darnold will be the top pick in the draft next month. My preference is still former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, however he has publicly stated that he does not want to play for the Browns so I think it’s more likely he ends up with the Jets at number 3 or the Broncos at number 5. Also, the Giants traded defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Buccaneers for some draft picks, so perhaps North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb may wind up being the second overall pick. But with that, let’s get to today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, as we begin to wind down with the Texas Rangers.

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2017 Results:

Record: 78-84, 23 games behind Houston Astros, 7 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card spot

Notable Offseason Additions: SP Bartolo Colon, SP Doug Fister, SP Matt Moore, RP Mike Minor, 2B Darwin Barney, 3B Trevor Plouffe, C Curt Casali, RP Shawn Tolleson, SP Tim Lincecum

Notable Offseason Subtractions: CF Carlos Gomez, SP Andrew Cashner, 1B Mike Napoli, SP AJ Griffin, SP Miguel Gonzalez, SP Nick Martinez, SP Tyson Ross, 2B Phil Gosselin

Best Offensive Player: 3B Adrian Beltre

Best Pitcher: Cole Hamels

Depth Chart:

C-Robinson Chirinos, Juan Centeno

1B-Joey Gallo

2B-Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Darwin Barney

3B-Adrian Beltre, Trevor Plouffe

SS-Elvis Andrus

LF-Drew Robinson, Ryan Rua

CF-Delino DeShields

RF-Nomar Mazara, Shin Soo Choo (DH)

SP-Cole Hamels, Doug Fister, Matt Moore, Mike Minor, Martin Perez, Jesse Chavez, Bartolo Colon

Bullpen-Alex Claudio (CP?), Jake Diekman (CP?), Matt Bush (CP?), Keone Kela, Jose LeClerc, Tony Barnette, Tim Lincecum

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Jeff Banister (4th season with Rangers)

Hitting Coach-Anthony Iapoce

Pitching Coach-Doug Brocail

1st Base Coach-Steve Buechele

3rd Base Coach-Tony Beasley

Bench Coach-Don Wakamatsu

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The Rangers had a tough season in 2017. After back-to-back division titles in 2015 and ’16, both of which concluded with unceremonious ALDS exits against the Blue Jays, they fell on hard times and ultimately had to start gutting the team, first by shipping off their ace Yu Darvish and then catcher Jonathan Lucroy. There may be more in store should the team struggle to compete in 2018, which I think they will given how tough the AL West is expected to be this season. Here’s how I’m expecting the Rangers to line up this season.

1. Delino DeShields-CF

2. Elvis Andrus-SS

3. Adrian Beltre-3B

4. Joey Gallo-1B

5. Nomar Mazara-RF

6. Shin Soo Choo-DH

7. Rougned Odor-2B

8. Robinson Chirinos-C

9. Drew Robinson/Ryan Rua-LF

There’s some pop in this lineup that will surely be enhanced by the conditions in Arlington, Texas. Joey Gallo is an interesting case here as he was a huge power threat, hitting 41 home runs and slugging .537. It’s this power that made Gallo worth a very respectable 2.9 WAR despite having the fourth-worst batting average in the majors at .209. Only Baltimore’s Chris Davis struck out at a higher frequency than Gallo’s 36.8%, but again, pretty much all of Gallo’s hits seemed to go for extra bases. In fact, 62 of his 94  hits (66%) were of the extra base variety. He hit more home runs (41) than singles (32). So despite the fact that Gallo doesn’t get a ton of hits, when he does he makes them count. Elvis Andrus quietly had his best season in 2017. He hit .297 with a career high 20 home runs (his previous best had been 8) and drove in 88 RBI while stealing 25 bags. He also played a quality defensive shortstop and had a career best 4.1 WAR. Rougned Odor is a guy I’ve never been a huge fan of (though you have to admit, that was a beautiful right hook on Jose Bautista) and last season he left a lot to be desired. He had the second worst batting average in the Majors at .204, the worst OBP at .252, and was worth -1.0 WAR despite hitting 30 home runs for the second straight season. He also played in all 162 games so it wasn’t like his performance was harmed due to injury. This seems to be more of an approach issue than anything and is something that he has to work on if he hopes to continue to be a part of this lineup. And of course, we can’t forget Adrian Beltre, one of the most underappreciated stars of the last 20 years. In fact, Beltre will be entering his 21st Major League season, which is amazing considering he’s not even 40 yet (he turns 39 in a few weeks). Beltre recorded his 3000th hit last season, a double down the left field line, and despite battling injuries that led him to playing his fewest games in a season since his rookie year, he still managed to hit .312 with 17 home runs and 71 RBI and playing his exceptional third base. His on-field antics are also the stuff of legend and have made him one of my all-time favorite players in this league. It will be a sad day when he finally decides to hang up the cleats. I just hope he can get a World Series win before he’s done.

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Pitching for the Rangers could get problematic. Cole Hamels is still an ace-level pitcher, though his 2017 season was a far cry to what he had done in the past. He had an ERA of 4.20 and struck out a career-worst 6.39 batters per 9. He turns 35 just after Christmas so perhaps he may be headed toward a steep decline, which should have Rangers fans nervous because after him there isn’t much to go off of. Doug Fister was a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox last season, but he was their 7th starter and really only joined the rotation because David Price and Steven Wright got hurt. However he did manage a 4.88 ERA, which isn’t good but his FIP was almost an entire run lower at 3.98. However if that’s your #2 starter, you’re in trouble. Matt Moore hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed as a rookie and had the worst ERA in the Majors last season among qualifiers with the Giants at 5.52. Things don’t get any easier as he moves from the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park to the very hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington. I also want to touch on Martin Perez real quick. Perez suffered an elbow injury in December after a bull at his ranch in Venezuela charged at him. How did Perez respond to this? He killed the bull and ate it. It’s unknown whether Perez will be ready to go for Opening Day, however this story is a good way to force hitters to take note of you.

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The Rangers bullpen is interesting. There hasn’t been a declared closer but there are so many options available. Alex Claudio had a strong 2017 with a 2.50 ERA though a low 6.10 K/9. Matt Bush continues to shed the “biggest draft bust of all time” label as he had a 3.78 ERA while striking out almost 10 batters per 9. The team also signed 2-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum to compete for the closer’s role. As of right now, I would say the favorite to land the job is Claudio, given he’s had the most recent success and he’s the reliever manager Jeff Banister went to the most last season and therefore has the most trust in. Though I think the Rangers would benefit in using a closer-by-committee kind of rotation where they have the left-handed Claudio appear in the 9th if the three batters due up are lefty-heavy and the right-handed Bush for when they’re righty-heavy.

Overall, I don’t expect the Rangers to compete too hard in this division. They’re way behind their in-state rival Astros in terms of talent and they didn’t do enough in the offseason to fend off the Angels and Mariners, either. If the Rangers aren’t competitors by the time the trade deadline rolls around, I would expect them to be sellers and begin their rebuild.

Projected Record: 82-80, 4th in AL West

That record could really fluctuate depending on how things go. It’s more of a place-holder, kind of like what I did with the Orioles. I would put more stock in the divisional finish rather than the actual record. That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when we go north of the border with the Toronto Blue Jays who, like the Rangers, are also at kind of a crossroads and will have some real decisions to make at the trade deadline. Let me know what you think of the Rangers’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

Some NFL news to talk about before I get into the Tribe. The Lions are going to place the franchise tag on defensive end Ziggy Ansah, which is a smart move as there aren’t a ton of pass rushers for Detroit to pursue and they’re already thin at the position as it is. It was also announced that the Vikings would not tag Case Keenum, which would suggest that they may be holding out hope that they can land Kirk Cousins. Jarvis Landry and DeMarcus Lawrence will be getting tagged if they aren’t signed by the Dolphins and Cowboys, respectively, so that’s two more names off the market. At some point after the deadline to franchise tag, I’ll post a Top 10 NFL free agents blog in addition to that day’s 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Also, in baseball news, Tim Lincecum will be signing with the Texas Rangers. It’ll be interesting to see if he even has anything left in the tank at this stage in his career. Let’s get into the Cleveland Indians.

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2017 Results:

Record: 102-60, Won AL Central by 17 games over Minnesota Twins, lost to New York Yankees in ALDS

Notable Offseason Additions: 1B Yonder Alonso, OF Rajai Davis, 1B Mike Napoli, RP Matt Belisle, RP Adam Wilk, RP Evan Marshall

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Carlos Santana, OF Jay Bruce, RP Bryan Shaw, RP Joe Smith, RP Craig Breslow, OF Austin Jackson, RP Boone Logan

Best Offensive Player: SS Francisco Lindor

Best Pitcher: Corey Kluber

Depth Chart:

C-Roberto Perez, Yan Gomes

1B-Yonder Alonso, Edwin Encarnacion (DH), Mike Napoli

2B-Jason Kipnis, Michael Martinez

3B-Jose Ramirez, Giovanny Urshela

SS-Francisco Lindor

LF-Michael Brantley, Rajai Davis

CF-Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte

RF-Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer

SP-Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger

Bullpen-Cody Allen (CP), Andrew Miller, Matt Belisle, Adam Wilk, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Evan Marshall

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Terry Francona (6th season with Indians)

Hitting Coach-Ty Van Burkleo

Pitching Coach-Carl Willis

1st Base Coach-Sandy Alomar Jr

3rd Base Coach-Mike Sarbaugh

Bench Coach-Brad Mills

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I really thought for sure that last season was the Indians’ year. They won 102 games, including an American League (and debatably Major League) record 22 in a row. I say debatably for Major League record because the actual record of 26 held by the 1916 New York Giants included a tie due to darkness, since this was before any stadiums had any lights installed. But the Indians entered the postseason as arguably the hottest team in baseball and they even got out to a 2-0 lead in a best-of-5 ALDS against the Yankees. However, they blew that lead much like they blew their 3-1 World Series lead against the Cubs in 2016 and had to watch the Astros win their first ever World Series from their couches. But the Indians are in prime position to make another run this year as a loaded roster combined with a weak division (I believe the 3 worst teams in the American League all hail from the AL Central) should point to an easy path to another division crown. Let’s take a look at how the Indians could stack up.

1. Jason Kipnis-2B

2. Jose Ramirez-3B

3. Francisco Lindor-SS

4. Edwin Encarnacion-DH

5. Michael Brantley-LF

6. Yonder Alonso-1B

7. Lonnie Chisenhall-RF

8. Roberto Perez/Yan Gomes-C

9. Bradley Zimmer-CF

That’s a pretty dangerous lineup. While Kipnis had a down year in 2017, I fully expect him to return to form because when he’s on, he’s one of the best second basemen in the game. And I expect he’s going to get more opportunities to do so because following him in the lineup is some pretty dangerous company. Jose Ramirez was a beast last season as he hit .318 with 29 home runs, 83 RBI, slugged .583, and was worth 6.6 WAR en route to finishing third in AL MVP voting. After him is Francisco Lindor, whom many would argue is the best shortstop in all of baseball. Last season Lindor hit .273, clubbed 33 home runs, drove in 89 RBI and was worth 5.9 WAR while playing exceptional defense at shortstop. Then there’s Edwin Encarnacion, who may be the biggest right-handed power threat in the game outside of New York. Encarnacion has slugged at least .500 in every season since his breakout 2012 campaign and there’s no reason to think he won’t keep up that trend. And if Michael Brantley can finally get healthy and return to form, look out. The only position that’s not really set here is centerfield but they’ve been testing out their young talent. Bradley Zimmer has the most potential between him and Tyler Naquin and it helps that he has blazing speed to go along with some pretty good pop. If he ends up breaking out this year, the Indians could be challenging the 2001 Mariners’ 116 wins.

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One could argue that the Indians’ pitching is just as good, if not better, than their hitting. They ranked #1 in all of Major League Baseball in team ERA and were the only pitching staff to collectively strike out 10 batters per 9 innings all season. They’re spearheaded by reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who was once again dominant in 2017 as he pitched to a record of 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA and struck out 11.71 batters per 9 innings. His sinker and breaking ball are two of the filthiest pitches in the Majors and will likely make him one of the favorites to win the Cy Young once again. Behind him is Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar and while Salazar is injured and likely to miss the start of the season, there’s still Carrasco, a guy who would likely be the ace of most staffs. Last season, Carrasco went 18-6 with a 3.29 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are two other guys who could be big contributors to this rotation. Bauer went 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA and struck out 10 batters per 9 innings but his skill is so much greater than that when he’s not slicing his finger open on drones. If he can realize his potential, there’s a 4-headed monster in Cleveland’s rotation.

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The Indians also have one of the best bullpens in baseball. Cody Allen has been one of the better closers in in the game for the last three years, as he has had at least 30 saves, struck out 11 batters per 9 innings, and a sub-3 ERA in all three seasons. However despite being the closer, he’s not even the best reliever in their ‘pen. That distinction belongs to the left-handed Andrew Miller. Manager Terry Francona and his staff have carved out a unique role for Miller in today’s game. Miller will often set up Allen for at least 2 innings at a time and is probably the only reliever in the game who typically pitches more than one inning in any given outing. It hasn’t hurt his numbers either. Last season he had a 1.44 ERA while striking out over 13 batters per 9 innings. Absolute dominance. They did lose a quality reliever in Bryan Shaw to the Colorado Rockies in the offseason, but there is still plenty of depth in the Indians bullpen that ought to make Francona comfortable with a lead late in games.

Overall I would say that the Indians are the favorites to win the American League, maybe even the World Series. It will likely be a dogfight in the American League this season as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros all look like dangerous threats to the Tribe’s title hopes. The Yankees added the biggest slugger in baseball in Giancarlo Stanton, the Red Sox added a guy who rivals Stanton’s power in JD Martinez, and the Astros lost nothing from a team that won the 2017 World Series. In fact, they added another ace to their already stellar rotation in Gerrit Cole. It’s going to be a tough road to the top for the Indians but they are more than well-equipped to try and win their first World Series since 1948.

Projected Record: 99-63, Win AL Central

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I discuss the Colorado Rockies, who look to build on their breakthrough 2017 season, which was a surprise to everyone except me (as you may have known, I had the Rockies as my darkhorse team last season in a paper I wrote for a column-writing class). Let me know what you think of the Indians’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.