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AL West preview: Rangers fall further behind leaders

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Texas Rangers vs Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre (29) hits a home run in the sixth inning as the Texas Rangers face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, September 25, 2016.

The Texas Rangers won 95 games in 2016 en route to their fifth postseason appearance in seven seasons. In 2017, they lost 84 and they will continue their tumble into the abyss of irrelevance in 2018.

And that’s not to say that they have gotten much worse — though they did nothing to get better — but the rest of the AL West division has gotten much better around them.

Key additions: SP Matt Moore, RP Tim Lincecum, SP Doug Fister

Key losses: OF Carlos Gomez, DH Mike Napoli

Perhaps the two biggest additions to the Ranger roster are a pair of Giants castoffs, carrying with them more hope than promise.

Moore has seen significantly more success in the AL (39-28, 3.88 ERA in six seasons) but his most recent season, a 15-loss year of plus-5.50 ERA in San Francisco, carries with it a sour taste.

Lincecum, who the Rangers plan to use out of the bullpen, has not pitched on a big league game since Aug. 2016 and has not finished a season with an ERA below 4.13 since 2011. Sure, he brings with him an impressive resume — which includes two Cy Youngs, four All-Star nods and three World Series rings and has shown some success as a reliever. But, now 33, “The Freak” may very well be beyond his productive years.

And Lincecum isn’t the only Texas starter who seems to be on the down-turn of his career. Cole Hamels, 34, finished 2017 with an ERA above 4.00 for the first time since 2006, his rookie season, and worked fewer than 200 innings (148) for the first time since 2009.

Martin Perez led the Rangers in wins (13) last year but will begin the season on the disabled list with a broken radial head in his right elbow. Texas is tentatively planning for him to pitch in early-April. Still, more questions than answers even here.

Offense has never been a problem for the Rangers, and that is unlikely to change in 2018 — especially playing 81 times in the launch pad that is the Globe Life Park in Arlington. As long as future Hall of Famer and apparent Dorian Gray impersonator Adrian Beltre, and young sluggers Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo are in the heart of a lineup topped by Elvis Andrus the runs are sure to come in bunches the way they have in each of the past three seasons, each finishing with Texas among the top five scoring offenses.

The problem won’t be offense. The problem will be manager Jeff Banister‘s lack of a closer and the abundance of questions hovering over the collective heads of his rotation, a rotation that finished 2017 with the AL’s fifth-worst ERA (4.66) and fourth-worst WHIP (1.40). A season anything like Moore’s 2017, Lincecum’s 2016 or any of the past three from free agent addition Doug Fister won’t be enough to combat that.

In the end, the Rangers will fall even further from in-state rival and reigning Wold Series champs the Houston Astros opening up a Texas-sized gap between first and fifth in the AL West.

Projected record: 73-89


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.

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