Rangers hoping to avoid slow start
End of 2007 season bodes well for prospects this time
SEATTLE -- The Colorado Rockies were 25-30 on June 1 last year and the Chicago Cubs were 22-30. Both ended up in the playoffs.So maybe it's not that important to get off to a good start if a team has hopes of contending for a playoff spot. But the Rangers, who open the season on Monday against the Mariners at Safeco Field, would prefer to avoid what happened to them in the first two months of the 2007 season. To sum up, it was a disaster. They were 10-15 in April, and just when they thought they had hit rock-bottom, May came around. The Rangers went 9-20 for that month -- setting a club record for losses in the month -- and pretty much knew by that time their season was over. That can't happen again, and manager Ron Washington does not believe it will. "I don't feel like we'll play terrible baseball the way we did in April and May," Washington said Sunday on a cold overcast day as the Rangers went through their final workout at Safeco Field before Monday's opener. "I don't think we'll have the injuries we had, I don't think our top two guys (Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla) will get off to bad starts like they did and I don't think our top two players (Michael Young, Mark Teixeira) will get off to a bad start. We're better in that respect." The Rangers' first three starters last season were Millwood, Padilla and Brandon McCarthy. By the end of April they were a combined 3-11 with a 6.70 ERA. McCarthy is out with severe inflammation in his right forearm and was placed on the 60-day disabled list Sunday. Newcomer Jason Jennings has joined Millwood and Padilla at the top of the rotation, and the Rangers are banking heavily on those three getting off to a far better start than what happened in 2007. They don't expect a repeat from the rotation any more than they expect Young to be hitting .215 at the end of May. "Our pitching staff is healthy," Washington said. "The last three times the starters got the ball in Spring Training, they showed they were vastly improved. We're ready to go." A good start may not mean all that much, either. Remember that the Rangers were tied for first place at the All-Star break in two of the last four years and still failed to get to the playoffs. The reality is that teams get to the playoffs by a variety of highways. Some lead their division wire-to-wire, while some put on historic stretch runs as others are running out of gas. Also, remember the Mets were 21 games over .500 on Sept. 12 with a seven-game lead in their division last year, and still played as many playoff games as the Rangers. None. The difference is that the Mets crashed late and the Rangers had their wreck early. At least the Rangers were able to plan for the future with their July deadline deals. They would still prefer not getting buried in the first two months this season. "We're not thinking about last year," Young said. "I don't think anybody should start a season trying to defend against a bad start. You just play aggressively and play to win." Washington has been insisting the Rangers have learned from the adversity they had to go through last year and will be better for it. "After what we went through, we found out you play baseball whichever way it's presented to you on a given night," Washington said. "That's the separator between good teams and bad teams. When you walk out there and the guy [pitching] is not allowing you to swing the bats the way you want, that's when you have to play winning baseball, move runners over and things like that, take advantage of your opportunities and make all the plays. "We finally showed last year we were capable of it." The Rangers did so by going 52-45 in their last 97 games. They will get a good test early this season to see if they can keep that going. They open on the road against the Mariners and the Angels, obviously considered by just about everybody to be the top two teams in the American League West. They have the Orioles, Blue Jays and Angels on the opening homestand, then take a potentially grueling nine-day trip to Toronto, Boston and Detroit. "It's the big leagues," pitcher C.J. Wilson said. "Everybody is tough. It's not like we get to play Little League teams." The Big League season starts Monday. It's supposed to last 162 games. The Rangers would prefer that to a two-month knockout.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.