Confident Rangers feel no sense of urgency
Texas alters staff as it seeks another trip to World Series
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Michael Young, senior member of the Rangers and de facto team captain, has identified the team's goal for 2012."Win the first game of the season and go from there," Young said. What about the last game? "Hopefully that won't mean too much," Young said, referring to the regular season, although most Rangers fans have become accustomed to the "last game of the season" being a playoff game. Or World Series game. "Obviously the goal is to win the division," Young said. "But the one thing this team has always done is focus on the now. Our focus is on next Friday [against the White Sox] and then attack them on Saturday. We're going to do that every step of the way." That's the Rangers' way, and it has served them well for the past two seasons on their way to consecutive American League pennants. They were the two greatest seasons in club history, but both ended up with a loss in the final game. Both final games were in the World Series against the Giants in 2010 and the Cardinals in '11.
W: Lewis (1-0) L: Danks (0-1)
SV: Nathan (1)
"Obviously we've gone there two years in a row, but no, there is no sense of urgency, not in here," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "If you start getting in a hurry to get things done, that's when it backfires on you. That's why we take the one-game approach whether we win or lose. You can drive yourself crazy with a sense of urgency."The Rangers aren't crazy, they are a confident bunch. They had a losing record in Arizona, but they know that means almost zilch considering they had losing records the previous two springs as well. Texas comes into the 2012 season with almost the same lineup it had in the World Series against St. Louis. The biggest changes are in the pitching staff. Joe Nathan was signed as a closer and that allows Neftali Feliz to step into the rotation after 2 1/2 years as a reliever. C.J. Wilson, who won 31 games over the past two years, has signed with the Angels, but the Rangers landed Japanese superstar pitcher Yu Darvish. "This team is built to win," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We've got a couple of question marks. We've had some changes. We have to see how Neftali will do as a starter, just see how Yu is going to adapt to pitching in the United States, see if Nathan is healthy. Besides that, it's business as usual around here." With Wilson gone, Colby Lewis steps into No. 1 spot in the rotation and will pitch Opening Day against the White Sox. He will be followed by Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, the two young left-handers who combined for 30 wins last year. Manager Ron Washington said he will take that again, but both say they expect to be better this season. Then comes Darvish and Feliz, with Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman going to the bullpen. "The thing about some of our young pitchers is I don't think we've seen them reach their ceilings yet," club president Nolan Ryan said. "I think there is still a lot of room for them to grow and develop, and that's what really gets you excited when you look at our ballclub." The Rangers will leave Spring Training with some uncertainty about their bullpen, but general manager Jon Daniels knows that it usually takes a month for relievers to settle into their roles. If the starters are as good as expected and Nathan regains his effectiveness as a closer, the Rangers can handle whatever other pitching issues arise. The lineup is set. The Rangers know the Angels are going to be better this year. They know they have added Wilson to a rotation that already included Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren. They know they added Albert Pujols to a lineup that has struggled to score runs the past two years. They know the Angels are tired of finishing in second place and out of the playoffs after dominating the AL West for the better part of a decade under manager Mike Scioscia. But the Rangers know they are also still good and, as defending champions, the team to beat. "We've gotten better and we want to prove ourselves all over again," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We want to prove to ourselves and the rest of the league that we are as good as advertised." Maybe the biggest question surrounding Texas is if the club has recovered from the heartbreaking World Series loss to St. Louis. The questions were asked in Spring Training and the Rangers had all the right answers, so the perception is they have moved on. They find out for real on Friday against the White Sox. Maybe Rangers fans have come to believe it is World Series or bust but the players insist that is not the case. "I'm not thinking that way at all," Young said. "We all know what the ultimate goal is, but you're not going to get to the World Series if you bypass everything else on the way. We're going to get after it every single day. If we do that, I like our chances."
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.