Rangers Reporting for Duty

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(Surprize, AZ) — The Texas Rangers will be one of the most fascinating stories of the 2013 MLB season. I was so happy to be able to spend four days out in Surprise, AZ., during the Texas Rangers Spring Training.

The Rangers won the American League Pennant two years in a row and looked to be in good shape last season before the bottom fell out at the tail end of the season.

They have the best farm system in all of baseball, but to steal the quote from former football coach Jon Gruden, “It’s one thing to be young and talented. It’s a whole other thing to be good.” They are one of the most talented organizations in baseball but are not the same team at the Major League level in 2013.

They lost a ton of leadership in Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton — though one could argue that Hamilton’s leadership and effectiveness might have been headed the other way in the last year. The increased role of GM Jon Daniels and the elevation of others in the Rangers organization appear to signal a youth movement that may not have room for Nolan Ryan. If Ryan were to leave the organization, what effect would it have on the clubhouse?

The first thing to understand is that expectations have not changed for the Texas Rangers as an organization. Ron Washington in no uncertain terms made it clear that the expectations have not changed.

A few things make the start of the season so important for the Rangers. They have to play every team in the American League West 19 times. The defending division winner Oakland A’s are a better team, as are the Angels. Nobody can expect the Angels to start as slow as they did in 2012. While I believe everyone thinks the Rangers are better than the Seattle Mariners, they still have King Felix and most chalk his starts as almost unwinnable.

Elvis Andrus signing autographs

That is what makes the Rangers a must-see for the first few weeks of the season… if you can get in the stadium. The Rangers, because of the lack of established leadership, must start the year strong because they may not have the leadership to bring them back from a tough start.

April 5 – 7 – at home against the Los Angeles Angels

April 8 – 10 – at home against the Tampa Bay Rays

April 19 – 21 – at home against the Seattle Mariners

April 22 – 24 – In Anaheim against the Angels

Yes, the MLB season is 162 games long but the Rangers will go a long way towards determining the trajectory of their club during the first month of the season. Questions like whether they have a 5th starter in the rotation will be answered within the first month. Do they have the leadership in the clubhouse? Do they have the clutch hitting to challenge in the West? Can Ian Kinsler start the year well and stay that way? Does Ron Washington have the right strings in the right places to win in 2013?

The questions won’t all be answered but I won’t be able to take my eyes off the first month of the 2013 season for the Texas Rangers because it will say so much.

Hope Springs Eternal in Florida and Arizona

The 2013 Major League baseball season kicks off this month as players report to their respective camps in Florida and Arizona. Many teams were busy over the winter revamping their rosters.

In Los Angeles the new owners of the Dodgers didn’t sit in the cheap seats after purchasing the team for $2.15 billion. Led by former Lakers star Magic Johnson the Dodgers spent more than $200 million this offseason on just three players – Zack Grienke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon League. The Dodger lineup is loaded with big name players like Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Andre Either. Only time will tell if the West Coast version of the Yankees can gel into a contender.

Another team making a big splash over the winter is the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto took advantage of the Miami Marlins fire sale and acquired Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Emilio Bonifacio. But the Blue Jays weren’t done. A trade with the New York Mets brought knuckleballer R.A. Dickey north of the border to bolster a formidable pitching staff. Suddenly (on paper), the AL East looks like the toughest division in baseball.

620653_24123006The defending World Series champs San Francisco Giants stood pat, not signing any big name players. The Giants will rely on pitching and defense again. Mait Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum will anchor a solid pitching rotation. Pitching health will be important as the Giants’ bats produced the fewest home runs in the National League last year. The Giants need another MVP-type season from Buster Posey to carry San Francisco to another postseason visit.

Change is afoot in Texas as the Houston Astros make the move to the American League. The rebuilding Astros don’t have any household names and look like they are headed for another 100 loss season. The good news is the minor league system continues to improve. Be patient, Astros fans. Houston will join the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Rangers’ fans did not enjoy the last three months of 2012. First the team blew a three game lead with three games left in the regular season to lose the division title to Oakland. Texas was then quickly dismissed from postseason play by Baltimore. Things got worse when Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young left via free agency/trade. Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski were brought in to help fill the void. Pitching now seems to be the strength of the team. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland anchor a strong rotation. Star prospect Jurickson Profar gave Rangers’ fans a glimpse of the future in a late-season call up. He needs to make an impact in 2013 to help fans forget about the offseason departure of key players.

Here are our players to watch in 2013:

  • Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants) – The Freak had a forgettable 2012 season. He will need to rebound if the Giants hope for a repeat World Series visit.
  • Adrian Gonzalez (LA Dodgers) – a mid season trade brought Gonzalez to LA. Unfortunately he left his power in Boston. A resurgent Gonzalez will offer protection for Kemp and gives the Dodgers legitimate power at first base.
  • Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) – Strasburg was on a pitch count in 2012 following Tommy John surgery. The Nats sure could have used him in the postseason. The pitch count has been lifted and Strasburg will be counted on to lead Washington back to the playoffs.
  • Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles) – Jones had a breakout season in 2012. With the AL East wide open the Orioles will need Jones to duplicate last season if they hope to contend.
  • Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers) – The Rangers lost a ton of offense in the offseason. Beltre will be the focal point in the lineup. Will he be up to the task?

The great thing about Spring Training is everyone starts anew. Optimism is high, and the excitement of another baseball season can help fight the winter chill. Tell us how you think your team will do this season.

 Jeff is a former semi-professional baseball player and contributor to the TicketCity Blog.

Swing In the New Year at Opening Day

With the Harbaugh Super Bowl just around the corner sports fans will have to turn their attention to the next big day of the New Year — MLB’s Opening Day. Hot dogs, peanuts, beer, and seventh inning stretches are just around the corner. With Opening Day games scheduled at venues like Minute Maid Park, Yankee Stadium, Turner Field, and Dodger Stadium, it’s a perfect time to catch a game. The slate is clean and the hunt for October begins in March with some of the most impressive match-ups the MLB has to offer.

To kick of the new season we head to Minute Maid Park where the stage is set for a Texas showdown. There will only be one game in the spotlight on Opening Night as the Texas Rangers head into Houston to play the Astros in their first game as an American League member. The two teams are not unfamiliar with competing on an inter-league basis as a part of the Lone Star Series which has been played since 2001 but now that they will be playing for divisional rights things could get a little more intense. Spoken as a true Astros fan, it’s been a little hard to root for a team that has been at bottom since the departure of the three B’s. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With the new move to the American League the ‘Stros get the full-time DH, which will come in handy against an offensively stacked AL. To do the job the Astros brought in Carlos Pena who despite only hitting 19 HR’s last year carries a strong resume. Ironically the slugger’s MLB debut in 2001 was with the Rangers, a team that will be looking to bounce back from the mayhem of the 2012 Wildcard game.

After March 31st the flood gates open up to a two day opening day extravaganza. Besides some of the premiere games like Tigers – Twins, Giants – Dodgers, and Phillies – Braves one of the most intriguing game day openers is the classic Yankees – Red Sox rivalry. Despite having played each other for more than a century the two AL East foes have only met in the ALCS three times but every postseason since the inception of the wild card format has featured one of these teams. The Red Sox had to mosey their way through an 86-year curse but have managed to remain productive since breaking the Bambino’s curse with a World Series win in 2004. The Yankees have seen better times but they are always in contention, especially with names like Suzuki, Jeter, Pettitte, and Sabathia on the roster. In any light a rivalry that features two of the best teams, national attention, and the fiercest fans around is destined to be good, thus making the Yankees-Red Sox opener a must see in 2013.

No matter where opening day 2013 sends you TicketCity want to take you. So check out the full schedule of this year’s opening day games as well as your favorite team’s 2013 home opener schedule at TicketCity!

Great October

It’s true what they say about the MLB in October — it’s where legends are born. The 2012 divisional series’ were a testament to the saying. With every series going the distance the stage was set for some remarkable finishes.

Out in Oakland, the A’s welcomed the Detroit Tigers in to the O.co Coliseum with expectations to do great things, while Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander had other plans in mind. Verlander, who is known to pitch a complete game from time to time, took the mound last Thursday and manager Jim Leyland said he could see it in Verlander’s eyes. Even Prince Fielder said he could tell Verlander was not going to come out of the game. The Tigers ace did not disappoint as he went the full nine innings to shut out the A’s, giving up just four hits. The 122-pitch masterpiece retired 11 batters via strike out and sent the Tigers to the ALCS where they took a 2 game lead against the Yankees. The series is headed to Detroit for games 3-5 at Comerica Park.

On the other side of the American League the Yankees – Orioles series was just as intense. Games three and four both found their way into extra innings and were decided by one run. Game 5 left the Orioles hanging their hats for the season as the Yankees outscored them 3-1.

After Werth’s walk-off jack in Game 4 to extend the series, expectations for a dramatic Game 5 in Washington were surpassed by the unexpected. If you were a Nationals fan, the first three innings left you with a great feeling. If you’re a Cardinals fan and stopped watching the Washington Nationals demolish the St. Louis Cardinals after the 6th inning you probably found yourself at a loss for words upon seeing the final score. After blasting the ball out of the stadium three times to take a 6 to nothing lead the Nationals were sitting pretty going into the final innings of the game. What they did not count on is an extremely experienced Cardinals team to come back with four unanswered runs in the ninth. After Descalso’s 2-RBI single to tie the game all was in line for that moment every kid acts out in their backyard. It’s the ninth inning, there are two outs and the game is tied. The TicketCity Play of the Week comes from the batter that stepped into box for the most cliché scenario in baseball. With runners on second and third the Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma rips the 2-2 pitch down the right field line knocking in the game-winning runs.

The Cardinals advanced to the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants where they have a one game lead at ATT Park. Games 3-5 will take the series to Busch Stadium in St. Louis after tonight’s Game 2.

Enjoy an unbelievable Cardinals comeback with the TicketCity Play of the Week.

A New Generation of Legends

Last week in sports was definitely one for the ages. With nearly 100 years of combined records being broken, Miguel Cabrera and Drew Brees replaced some legendary names in the record books. Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown. In Major League Baseball the Triple Crown refers to when a player leads either league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs (runs batted in). In 143 years of MLB play this feat has only been accomplished 17 times. Before Cabrera the last person to win the Triple Crown was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Not only did Miguel Cabrera win the Triple Crown but he is leading his team through the MLB Playoffs as they are battling the Oakland Athletics in the American League Divisional Series. Though there is no video to show how Miguel Cabrera’s bat has been the most powerful in all the MLB he most certainly will share the TicketCity Play of the Week pedestal with Drew Brees.

In 1942, Green Bay Packers quarterback Cecil Isbell established a record of 23 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. 18 years later, when the Colts called Baltimore home, one of the most legendary QBs to play the game doubled this record and threw for a TD in 47 consecutive games. His name was Johnny Unitas. After Unitas set this astonishing record it remained in the books for decades going unchallenged for 52 years. Players like Dan Marino, Brett Favre and Tom Brady all danced around the record only to fall short by ten or more games. On October 18, 2009 New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees would begin his shot at breaking this streak.

Drew Brees began his football career as a Westlake Chaparral in Austin, Texas. From Austin the 6-foot 200-pound quarterback went on to make a name for himself as the starting quarterback for the Purdue Boilermakers. In the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft the San Diego Chargers took Drew Brees as the 32nd pick. Though his size was always questioned in the NFL, Brees came to be one of the great quarterbacks of the league. It was not until 2005 when the Chargers signed their current franchise QB Phillip Rivers that Brees found himself without a team. Sean Peyton and the New Orleans Saints saw more than just the shortest quarterback in the NFL — they saw an amazing leader and football player. In the same year Brees began his consecutive game touchdown passing record he also led the Saints to a victory in Super Bowl XLIV where he was named MVP.

Last night’s stage was set perfectly for Brees as he took the field for pregame warmups. Not only was his head coach Sean Peyton allowed to attend the game but he would be going up against Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. With three minutes left in the first quarter Brees drops back on third down and finds Henderson wide open down the sideline for a touchdown to surpass Unitas in one of the most untouched records in NFL history. Brees capped the night off with three more touchdowns and 370 passing yards to bring the Saints out of their winless start and leave the new record for consecutive games with a passing touchdown at 48.