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Texas Rangers armed and ready to advance to the playoffs. What about the angels?


Jonah Heim’s eyes light up when the catcher is asked how much fun it will be to manage the revamped rotation of the Texas Rangers, who spent $244 million last winter on a weapons package that includes a bona fide ace at two times the prize. Cy Young of the National League. winner Jacob deGrom.

“It’s like Christmas morning when you get new toys,” Heim said this spring, “but now we have five new toys.”

The brightest of them is deGrom, the 34-year-old right-hander with a lively 99 mph fastball and 93 mph elimination slider who signed a five-year, $185 million contract in December. But the other four are not easy at all.

Texas signed Nathan Eovaldi, the 33-year-old playoff-proven right-hander with a 96-mph fastball and nasty 88-mph splitter, to a two-year, $34 million deal, and Andrew Heaney, the 31-year-old lefty. who had a career-high 3.10 ERA in 16 games for the Dodgers last season, for two years, $25 million.

Those three will join lefty Martin Perez, the 31-year-old sinker trade specialist who had a career-best 2.89 ERA in 32 starts for the Rangers in 2022, and right-hander Jon Gray, 31, who had he was 7-7 with a 3.96 ERA in 24 games last season, in what might be one of the best rotations in baseball.

“It changes the whole perspective for us, it’s completely different,” said Rangers shortstop Corey Seager, the former Dodgers star entering the second year of a 10-year, $325 million contract. “The goal is to make the postseason and win playoff games, and you need good talent and arms like this to do it.”

Poor starting pitchers are the main reason the first-slug Rangers have suffered six straight losing seasons: They’ve ranked 24th or worst in turnover ERA over the past five seasons with an ERA of 5.32 or higher in four of those years.

For comparison, the top two ERAs in the rotation last season were the Dodgers (2.75) and the World Series champion Houston Astros (2.95).

But the Rangers are betting big that a new and improved rotation will launch them into playoff contention in an AL West that includes the Astros, who won 106 games last season, the 90-win Seattle Mariners and a deeper Angels club led by two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani and three-time AL MVP Mike Trout.

“It’s going to be a dogfight every night,” Angels catcher Max Stassi said of the split. “There are no children’s games.”

The Astros have more than enough pitching to weather the loss of 2022 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to the New York Mets, and a lineup that replaced aging first baseman Yuli Gurriel with the MVP. of the American League in 2020, José Abreu, could be even more powerful.

Julio Rodriguez, the 2022 AL Rookie of the Year, helped the Seattle Mariners reach the postseason for the first time since 2001.

(Stephen Brashear/Associated Press)

The Mariners, who snapped a 20-year playoff drought and gave the Astros everything they could handle in the AL Division Series, added slugger Teoscar Hernandez and leadoff hitter Kolten Wong to a lineup led by dynamic 22-year-old center fielder Julio Rodríguez, a near-unanimous choice for AL rookie of the year in 2022.

The Angels will lean heavily on the incomparable Ohtani in what could be the AL MVP’s final season in 2021 in Anaheim before he hits free agency, and Trout, but a healthy Anthony Rendon and the sluggers newly acquired Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury should add considerable pop.

“I predict it will take fewer games to win our division than at any time since I’ve been here, simply because there’s more parity,” said Dusty Baker, who took over as Astros manager in 2020.

“Not just Texas, you also look at Anaheim. They added Renfroe, and they’re going to have a healthy Rendon. And Seattle added Kolten Wong and Teoscar, and they have (Luis) Castillo, the pitcher they acquired last year.”

The Rangers lost 94 games and finished 38 games behind the Astros in 2022. It would be a stretch to think that with their less-than-stellar infield defense and skinny bullpen they could surpass the Astros in the AL West, but their rotation, if their starters can stay healthy, they should at least give them a chance.

Of his five starters, Perez is the only one to avoid the disabled list in 2022. DeGrom suffered a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade last spring and didn’t make his 2022 debut until Aug. 2, missing the second half. 2021 due to forearm and elbow injuries.

Heaney missed about half of 2022 with shoulder pain, and Eovaldi missed nearly two months of last season with shoulder inflammation. DeGrom and Eovaldi were slowed this spring by left-sided stiffness, and Gray was slowed by back pain.

But if the rotation’s durability can match its potential dominance, the Rangers should have the arms to compete in the rocky AL West.

“Each one of these guys has something unique to them, and if we put them all out at the same time, it’s going to be really special,” Heim said. “We don’t just have one guy. We have five quality guys who will give us a chance each and every night.”

Expected order of arrival in the AL West for 2023:

1 | Houston Astros

2022 | 106-56, first in the west

Last year in the playoffs | 2022

Star second baseman and leadoff hitter José Altuve suffered a broken right thumb when hit by a pitch at the WBC and is expected to be out for two months, an injury general manager Dana Brown described as a “massive blow.” . The rotation should be among the best in baseball despite the loss of Justin Verlander to free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. to a strained muscle.

2 | seattle mariners

2022 | 90-72, 2nd in West

Last year in the playoffs | 2022

One of the best rotations in baseball will have the acquisition of Luis Castillo at the 2022 trade deadline for a full season. Three highly touted prospects — Bryce Miller, Emerson Hancock and Bryan Woo — provide quality depth if any of the six starting pitchers are injured. The winter acquisitions of Kolten Wong and Teoscar Hernandez should boost the on-base percentage and run production.

3 | angels of los angeles

2022 | 73-89, 3rd in West

Last year in the playoffs | 2014

The addition of Hunter Renfroe, who had a combined 60 homers and 168 RBIs over the past two seasons, and Brandon Drury, who hit 28 homers in 2022, along with the return of healthy Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh should boost a lineup that led the league. Majors in strikeouts and ranks 25th in runs despite having two of the best hitters in baseball in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

4 | Texas Rangers

2022 | 68-94, 4th in West

Last year in the playoffs | 2016

Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, who got off to a slow start after signing contracts worth a combined $500 million before 2022, feel more grounded and that could translate to more consistent production at the plate. The infield defense is spotty, and the Rangers didn’t do much to improve a bullpen that had a decent ERA (3.72) but converted just 37 of 67 save opportunities.

5 | oakland athletics

2022 | 60-102, 5th in West

Last year in the playoffs | 2020

An offense that ranked last in baseball in batting average (.216) and OPS (.626) and next-to-last in runs (568) in 2022 traded OPS leader Sean Murphy to Atlanta, so there’s some question. about how the A’s, with a payroll of $75.5 million, will score. A bullpen anchored by Trevor May, who has 12 career saves from him and is the club’s highest-paid player at $7 million, is thin and inexperienced.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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