Rangers get offensive about their chances this season in West

April 05, 1992|By Gerry Fraley | Gerry Fraley,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- No excuses accepted.

In the past three seasons, the Texas Rangers explained no finish higher than third in the American League West as what was expected of limited talent. In 1992, that thinking has been junked.

General manager Tom Grieve acknowledged this should be the best team during his eight-year pairing with manager Bobby Valentine. It follows, Grieve said, that this team has the best chance of winning the first title in the Rangers' 21 seasons in Arlington.

He says that without reservations.

"While it's true we haven't won, it's also true we haven't had the talent to win," Grieve said. "When everybody looks at our team over the last few years, the consensus has been we're a middle-of-the-pack team. We've always been a little above where we've been picked.

"I think we're in a position now to have the best team we've had. It's important for us to go out there and play that way. Everyone here believes we can win."

Opponents agree. Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler, whose team also is expected to contend, said the Rangers "are a team that really scares you." Minnesota manager Tom Kelly said the Rangers should be contenders "with all the talent they have."

Valentine, facing great expectations for the first time, said only, "I like my team." All-Star right fielder Ruben Sierra was bolder.

"You can put it in quotes: 'We've got a team that can win,' " Sierra said.

The Rangers have the individual talent to contend. Seven Rangers have been on an All-Star team, with catcher Ivan Rodriguez and outfielder Juan Gonzalez on the cusp of that acclaim. Their toughest challenge is to outshine last season's All-Stars: second baseman Julio Franco, the defending American League batting champion who is suffering from an ailing right knee, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and Sierra.

World Series champion Minnesota, in the American League West with the Rangers, has only four players who have been on an All-Star team. The White Sox, predicted to rival the Rangers, have seven former All-Stars.

"You got to have the big horses, the stars, to win," Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said. "The Rangers have them all over the place."

All teams that win have stars, but not all teams with stars win. The Rangers' challenge is to turn individual talent into a winning team. They failed with the same group last season, finishing third because of slipshod defense and even worse pitching.

"I think everybody knows we can win," said shortstop Dickie Thon, the club's lone significant off-season acquisition. "We have to take care of business when it comes time to play. It's not the team with the best players that wins. Look at what happened to Los Angeles last year. It's the team that plays the best with its players that wins."

The chilling fact for the Rangers is they will try to win with the same players and same style that failed last season. They will try again to beat teams into submission with offense and hope the pitching and defense do not cause too many problems. It is, at best, a non-traditional approach.

"It's not going to hurt your chances of winning, having a good offense," Valentine said.

The Rangers could have a better offense than last season, when they led the majors with 829 runs and finished second with 177 home runs. With third baseman Dean Palmer and Gonzalez available for full seasons and Kevin Reimer expected to be more productive with more at-bats, the Rangers could challenge the 900-run and 200-homer barriers.

"We can be better," said Sierra, the offensive ringleader. "A lot better."

Franco's knee ailment, expected to force him to miss time during the season, raises an unnerving thought. If the batting champion is unavailable, how far will the offense drop? If the offense drops, can the Rangers have the necessary run differential to win?

Every division winner last season outscored the opposition by at least 62 runs, with an average differential of 107. Despite their offensive success, the Rangers outscored the opposition by only 15 runs last season. Because they base their planning on offense, the Rangers cannot afford a run-production dip.

The key number for the Rangers if 4.00. If their staff ERA is not less than 4.00, only a staggering offensive season can produce a winner.

The Rangers have had an ERA higher than 4.00 five of the past seven seasons. They had a 4.47 ERA last season with a similar staff. Since World War II, only five teams have had an ERA higher than 4.00 and won a title.

Minnesota and Detroit did it in the live-ball 1987 season. California scored 866 runs to win with a 4.34 ERA in 1979. Brooklyn had 955 runs to win with a 4.10 ERA in 1953. The New York Yankees, with Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra combining for 60 homers and 246 RBI, had 914 runs to win with a 4.15 ERA in 1950.

The suggestion is that only a truly great offensive team can withstand the mental strain of knowing every game must be productive to make up for poor pitching.

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