Rangers' mission: Go one step further than '10
Defending AL champs set goals high as they begin quest for title
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers are the defending American League champions.Outfielder Josh Hamilton felt compelled to remind people of that on Sunday in case they missed the actual trophy, which is on display in the lobby of their team offices. "Everybody thinks it's a fluke," Hamilton said. "All I've heard about is the Phillies' pitching and the Red Sox. All I hear about is the Phillies and the Red Sox. Not to be mean, but the media and the 'baseball' people think it's a fluke. They've already got it figured out, so why do we need to play the season?" The Rangers voted and decided to play the season anyway.
The defending AL champions took the field on Sunday for their first full-squad workout. Most of the players have already been working out, but this time they were joined by Michael Young and David Murphy.Before the workout, manager Ron Washington held his annual team meeting. Young spoke briefly about his situation and request for a trade, promising not to be a distraction. Washington then gave his annual address. "Mainly, I told them to stay healthy," Washington said. "Don't try to do too much the first couple of days. Take care of our fundamental business every day and take it seriously. I don't want to pound too much into their heads and get them thinking. I just want them to keep playing baseball. I brought up to the guys who haven't been here how seriously we take our baseball." The Rangers will try to be the first AL team to win consecutive pennants since the Yankees won four straight from 1998-2001. The Phillies won in 2008-09, and prior to that, the Braves were the last National League pennant-winner to repeat in 1995-96. Of the 20 pennant winners in each league from 2000-09, nine did not make the playoffs the following season. Four others were knocked out in the first round -- twice by sweeps. "I imagine it would be tough to repeat," Young said. "It's not easy to win. A lot of sacrifices have to be made and a lot of breaks have to go your way. But one of the things this team has is good makeup up and down and off-the-chart intangibles. Those are things that come into play over the course of the season. It's just important to trust the work and trust the people next to you. If you do, the season tends to work out." The Rangers know that last year is over. They will get their rings at some point, but the celebration is over. The Angels, A's and Mariners have not sat idly this winter and the AL West remains rich in pitching. The Rangers might be defending champions, but the Angels won the division five times in the past seven years. "Anytime you're sitting where we are, it's like Wash said, 'We're the hunted,'" said pitcher Colby Lewis. "We've got to go out and do what we did last year. Put together quality at-bats and quality starts." "It's a different year, but the goal is still the same and that's to win a world championship," said second baseman Ian Kinsler. "That's about it. We had a great year, it's over with and now it's time to move on. You just set your goals high. It's not about what you did last year. Everybody understands it's a new year." Of the 27 players who appeared for the Rangers in the playoffs, 20 are back. Missing are pitchers Cliff Lee, Dustin Nippert and Clay Rapada, catcher Bengie Molina, infielder Jorge Cantu, outfielder Jeff Francoeur and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. The Rangers finally have a team that is playoff-tested, but they also know they fell short of their goal. The Rangers have 59 players in camp, and the only one who has played on a World Series-winning team is Minor League catcher Kevin Cash -- and he only played 10 games with the Red Sox in 2007 and 12 with the Yankees in '09. After losing to the Giants in five games, the mission is to go one step further -- but doing so by the club's proven method of focusing on what it has to do that day. The Rangers never get away from that, whether it is February or October. "Getting to the World Series was pretty awesome, but it definitely stinks to lose it," Young said. "The sting of losing the World Series never goes away, just like I'm sure the joy of winning the World Series never goes away. We all have a goal, but at the same time, we have to focus on Spring Training. "We're not in October or November. This is February. We have to focus on what we're doing here in February if we want to have success in October."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.