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Rangers set for Opening Day in season that promises to be unlike any other

The Texas Rangers have gone 299 days since they last played a game of baseball but, despite the tribulations of an ongoing pandemic, MLB is set to play ball
Credit: AP
Member of the Texas Rangers play an intrasquad game during a baseball practice at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Monday, July 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Opening Day for Major League Baseball comes amidst a pandemic, an era of masks and social distancing, a quarrel between ownership and players, with several top names electing not to play and an entire team left homeless. 

The moral ambiguity of playing the game under these circumstances can be disputed endlessly. I’ve always been a guy who plays the game by the rules that are in place at the time, so I’ll try to enjoy the season as much as I can from the comforts of my own home (with blackout restrictions still in place). The DoppelRangers will have to be our surrogates at the park.

Major League teams had until noon eastern on Thursday to finalize their temporary 30-man rosters to start the year. After two weeks, the rosters will have to be trimmed down to 28 players, and, soon after that, the more standard 26-man list will be in place. 

The Texas Rangers opted to finalize their list on Wednesday evening after they were swept in painfully convincing fashion in a two-game exhibition set against the Colorado Rockies. Those same Rockies will be in the third base dugout as Globe Life Field sets upon its maiden voyage into the baseball stadium history books.

Who will be in the home dugout on Opening Day?

Catchers – Robinson Chirinos, Jose Trevino, Jeff Mathis

Earlier this week, it looked like Chirinos – returning to the team after a one-year stint in Houston – might miss Opening Day after an intrasquad game mishap where Scott Heineman slid into the catcher’s ankle. After catching the Tuesday game against Colorado, Chirinos is good to go. 

In a 60-game season, Chirinos, who greatly improved his defense last season, and has always had a good bat for power, figures to be the primary catcher for Texas. While he has played two consecutive years carrying a primary catcher’s load (113 and 114 games respectively), his history of lighter workloads is a benefit in this sprint of a season. 

Behind him will be rookie Jose Trevino, a minor league Gold Glove winner, viewed as the catcher of the future for Texas, and the journeyman Jeff Mathis. Mathis is in the final year of his two-year deal, and after falling well short of expectations behind the plate in 2019, figures to be used sparingly. This is Chirinos’ position for now and his history of preparedness and rapport with pitchers is going to be key for this season.

Rotation – Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles

Lance Lynn gets the Opening Day nod for Texas, his first such honor. The pitcher who also started the final game at Globe Life Park had a strong campaign in his first year with the Rangers last season, his third since coming back from Tommy John. Lynn finished 5th in the voting for the AL Cy Young Award.

Mike Minor finished 8th in the Cy Young Award voting as one part of the duo of workhorses and marquee names on the mound for Texas along with Lynn in 2019. They return to those roles this season. While there may not be another double-digit win season in the cards for starters in a 60-game docket, Lynn and Minor are going to be heavily leaned on to go deep into games. 

Along for the ride this year is two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, having come over from Cleveland in a trade last December. Kluber, while still highly regarded as one of the league’s best, is coming off of an injury-shortened 2019. On a staff featuring Lynn and Minor, though, Kluber’s ace reputation isn’t as much of a highlight as it was in Cleveland. That, as well as the shortened season, should play to his favor. 

Rounding out the rotation are Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, both in the first year of multi-year deals with Texas. Gibson and Lyles, for their careers, have potential to be great in small streaks, and are slotted in the rotation right where they need to be. 

Frankly, if Lynn, Minor, Gibson and Lyles can turn in even career-average performances and Kluber meets expectations coming off of a fractured arm and oblique injury, the Rangers’ rotation can hold its own against the American League West and provide Texas with a true strength in an area that has never been a strength for the franchise.

Bullpen – Jose Leclerc, Jesse Chavez, Edinson Volquez, Jonathan Hernandez, Nick Goody, Luke Farrell, Ian Gibaut, Joe Palumbo, Kolby Allard

Leclerc, Chavez and Gibaut making the club in the bullpen isn’t a surprise. Leclerc returns as the incumbent closer, despite having some intense ups and downs in 2019. Chavez is the high-leverage middle reliever who bounced from Texas to the Cubs and then back to Texas last year and performed admirably when in that exact role. Used in short stints and higher leverage, late-inning situations, Chavez was not as effective. 

Gibaut came over from the Rays last year and pitched like a man with no expectations levied on him. As a low-leverage innings eater, he’ll find time on the mound. Volquez, the elder statesman on the team, continues to impress after missing most of his promising comeback year with an elbow sprain. Seeing the frequency with which the Rangers used an opener last season, and with the importance of every game, Volquez doesn’t have to ride the road to retirement just yet. 

As for the others, Hernandez, Goody, Palumbo and Allard all saw some time in the big leagues last year to varying degrees of success. Hernandez and Palumbo, in particular, have been highly regarded by the system and could contribute in very meaningful ways this season. 

Farrell was a favorite to make the club a couple of years ago, but got drilled in the face by a comebacker in spring training, and had been recovering from a broken jaw ever since. With the roster set to change in the next few weeks, and with bullpen arms being so volatile, some of these names could certainly come and go. 

Relief arms like Brett Martin – recovering from COVID-19  – Rafael Montero, and Joely Rodriguez are working to make their returns.

Infielders – Ronald Guzman (1B), Rougned Odor (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), Todd Frazier (1B/3B), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (3B/UTIL)

The usual suspects return for 2020, with veteran Todd Frazier coming in to be the team’s everyday first baseman. Signed to play third base, Frazier, entering his tenth season, brings an average glove and average bat to the team. But it will be Isiah Kiner-Falefa who will start Friday at third base, having earned the distinction, not just through tenure, but through his adaptability and flexibility in the field. 

Falefa added some weight and made some adjustments to his batting stance and has said he feels stronger and better at the plate. That showed up during original spring training back in March and into the revived training in July.

Ronald Guzman, who ended up needing to be sent down last season due to lack of performance, returns to backup Frazier at first base. The Condor undoubtedly has a defensive edge, but the team needs more power from both corner positions, which is where Frazier comes in. 

Elvis Andrus returns as the helmsman of the Rangers’ squad at shortstop and Rougned Odor is going to have to continue to change the minds of detractors both on defense and offense as Andrus’ keystone partner at second base. 

Typically, no news is good news, and that’s how Andrus has been flying during the prime of his career. Going into his age-31 season, Andrus has been putting up the numbers expected of him, although there are probably some that would argue he needs to be better and that’s especially the case if the team continues to use Andrus as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. But Andrus is steady, predictable, and consistent, which has its virtues for a team when facing a weird 60-game sprint. 

Odor is coming off one of his worst seasons cumulatively, but said at the end of last year that he and Guzman were finally buying into the way manager Chris Woodward was communicating some new data to them. He’s been known to put together some definitive hot streaks during a season, most notably down the stretch for the 2018 club. It is the hope of the club that Odor hits the right stride at the right time for this year. There won’t be time for another slump.

Outfielders – Willie Calhoun, Danny Santana, Joey Gallo, Shin-Soo Choo, Nick Solak, Scott Heineman, Leody Taveras, Rob Refsnyder

The first six players listed are going to be the primary outfield patrol for Texas, with Santana and Gallo taking up a good amount of time at center field and right field, while Calhoun and Solak hold down left field. Heineman looks like the CF backup but he can play anywhere in the outfield. Choo will primarily be the designated hitter, but can still provide some defense in a pinch at the corners. 

Perhaps most interesting among those that made the roster is Leody Taveras. 

The 21-year old Taveras hit .292 with two homers in Summer Camp and was the number three prospect in the Rangers’ system. Under normal circumstances, Taveras probably would be playing baseball in Frisco at the very least. However, with no minor league baseball in existence right now, Taveras got the surprising news that he made the team. 

Is he a candidate to be dropped when rosters must get cut to 28 and then 26? Probably. But a lot can happen in a month’s worth of time, and Taveras may be up here longer than he expected – which is already longer than he expected. Refsnyder has been up and down through the Majors and Minors for different franchises with nothing spectacular to show for it but can provide versatility with experience in the infield as well.

The old adage that the roster that opens the season isn’t the one you end with is the case in 2020 more than ever. With the significance of the games increasing over the shortened season, there’s far less room for error and far more chance for turnover, as manager Chris Woodward is going to have to make decisions at a much more rapid pace than in previous seasons.

With extended playoffs in the mix, do you think the Rangers will make the postseason in 2020? Share your predictions with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.

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