Series 5 Preview: Rangers at Cubs
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is a force offensively as well as with the glove. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Once the clear leaders of the AL West and back-to-back Junior Circuit champions, the Rangers now have plenty of company in their division. The Angels have loaded up through free agency two winters in a row, and the A’s shocked baseball by upsetting the Rangers for the division title last fall. But Texas will be able to dip into a perennially deep farm system thanks to one of the game’s premier scouting operations. They come to Chicago in an early season Interleague matchup due to the new 15-team alignment in each league.
Cubs batters will face a challenge getting the ball past the left side of the infield thanks to two of the game’s best glovemen: third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Both have great range, smooth hands and outstanding arms. Beltre, of course, adds in a .300-average, 30-homer stick that makes him an annual MVP candidate, while Andrus has improved offensively across the board in the last couple of seasons. Homegrown players stock the right side of the infield, with second baseman Ian Kinsler and first baseman Mitch Moreland. Regular DH (and former Astro and Cardinal) Lance Berkman could spot at first base or in the corner outfield this series.
With the departure of Josh Hamilton, there’s more pressure on left fielder David Murphy to double up on his breakout 2012 season, on right fielder Nelson Cruz to stave off further decline, and on center fielder Leonys Martin to grab hold of the position after being inked to a five-year deal out of Cuba.
The Cubs will see a few familiar faces behind the dish: former friend Geovany Soto and former foe A.J. Pierzynski. The latter joined the Rangers as a free agent after eight years on the South Side. Former Cub Jeff Baker also has a bench spot and may poke his head out against Travis Wood or other lefties.
The Cubs will miss right-hander Yu Darvish and the assortment of pitches that dazzled for 26 straight outs against the Astros two weeks ago. But they’ll still catch a homegrown trio with plenty of stuff: inconsistent left-hander Derek Holland, 2010 fifth-rounder Justin Grimm and reliever-turned-starter Alexi Ogando. Expect a lot of easy cheese on Thursday when Ogando takes on Jeff Samardzija. In the bullpen, the Rangers pair a couple of sophomore setup guys, Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers, with veteran closer Joe Nathan.
Friday, April 5—LHP Derek Holland (0-1, 2.40) vs. LHP Travis Wood (1-0, 1.46)
Saturday, April 6—RHP Justin Grimm (0-0, 4.50) vs. RHP Carlos Villanueva (0-0, 0.64)
Sunday, April 7—RHP Alexi Ogando (2-0, 1.08) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75)