As with most everything else, baseball in 2020 is going to be weird. 60 games instead of 162. A DH in the National League. Extra inning baserunners that magically appear. It's all a bit odd.
But it may play into the hands of the Texas Rangers quite well.
The reality is, the Rangers are probably still at least a year away from the roster they want to build for the new era of the organization. The infield is still a bit piecemeal, and there are still questions about how certain players will pan out.
But they have a high-quality rotation, a handful of position players that have a reputation for being streaky, and they get to play 33% of their games against the NL West, which is, aside from the Dodgers, a relatively weak division.
The opportunity is there for the taking.
Just another sign that 2020 is a weird year -- the starting rotation is the strength of this Rangers team. After impressive seasons from Mike MInor and Lance Lynn -- each of whom earned Cy Young votes -- the Rangers added a two-time Cy Young winner in Corey Kluber. A fractured right forearm robbed him of most of the 2019 season and leaves questions about what he still has left. But in 2016, '17, and' 18 he won 18, 18, and 20 games respectively, notching All-Star nods in each of those three years and winning the Cy Young in '17. He also won a Cy in 2014 and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting in each year from '14 to '18.
Add Kluber to the strong arms the Rangers found in Minor and Lynn, and that forms a very strong 1-2-3. Then the Rangers went out in the offseason and brought in Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to round out the rotation. Gibson and Lyles are veterans who have had their own success at various stops in the past and are expected to bring solid experience to the back end of the rotation. The Rangers did a great job of spotting cheap talent in Minor and Lynn last year, and they're trying to hit oil again, with Gibson and Lyles.
The bullpen has some question marks, in terms of health -- Brett Martin, Joely Martinez, and Rafael Montero are all expected to be on the shelf at least to start the season -- and overall efficacy. But if Jose Leclerc can find some consistency at the end of the 'pen, the Rangers could get by with their relievers.
This is, somewhat surprisingly, where the expected downfall is for the Rangers. But Joey Gallo is Paul Bunyan with a baseball bat, and second baseman Rougned Odor might be perfectly suited for a 60-game season, if he can be streaky good, not streaky bad. Shortstop Elvis Andrus may also benefit from a shortened season. The real determining factor for the Rangers may just be whether the streaky tendency for some of their hitters trends in a positive direction.
Shin-Soo Choo figures to once again churn base hits all season, although he is getting long in the tooth. He turned 38 a couple of weeks ago, and as gifted a hitter as he is, that reality still looms.
Alongside Odor and Andrus in the infield will apparently be Isiah Kiner-Falefa at third base and newly acquired Todd Frazier at first. Both will need to be productive in order for the Rangers to score enough.
Danny Santana had a very nice season last year, posting numbers unlike anything he had done since at least his rookie season, if not ever. The Rangers need him to prove that wasn't a flash in the pan, but rather a sign of things to come.
And don't be surprised if you end up a Nick Solak fan if you aren't already. He came in to post some really intriguing numbers late last year and is expected to be a key utility outfielder and/or platoon man, as the season develops.
The schedule does benefit the Rangers in two key ways. First of all, they get to play the Seattle Mariners 10 times. Seattle is expected to be one of the bottom feeders in the league this year. Texas has to capitalize on those 10 games. Posting, for instance, a 7-3 record in those 10 games, as compared to going 4-6, might be the difference in earning a playoff berth.
Secondly, the NL West does appear to provide opportunities as well. Texas will play 20 games against the division, but only three of them against the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. The other four teams in the division are expected to be in the bottom half of the league teams. Texas plays six against the Rockies, four against the Diamondbacks and Padres, and three games against the Giants.
Now, the Rangers, mind you, are expected to be in the bottom half of the league team, themselves. But the 27 games they play against the Mariners, Rockies, D-Backs, Padres and Giants are their opportunity to make up some ground on the rest of the AL West.
One thing though. If the Rangers want to be a playoff team, they better put themselves in an advantageous position going into September, because they play all ten of their games against the Houston Astros in a 27-day span from September 1st until the end of the regular season.
This is a Rangers team that could be coming together at just the right moment, for just the right season, to put a little spark into the organization and get something extra out of a season that wasn't supposed to be their year. A playoff berth is entirely possible (especially if MLB really does expand the playoffs from 10 to 16 teams, as has been rumored in recent days) if the right guys can get hot and stay hot for the shortened 60-game season.
You could say that about most any team in the league, with the oddities of 2020. But as Chris Woodward mentioned a few weeks ago, this is an opportunity for a young team to be "tied for a playoff spot on Aug. 1."
That's a chance you don't want to let go by the wayside.