We're getting close to Opening Day and that means it is time to focus in on nine of the stories worth following this Rangers season. We'll run them down one a day between now and April 6th, with Yu Darvish up for discussion in the eighth inning.
Donald Rumsfeld would love this year's Rangers team.
The former Secretary of Defense held a press briefing for the ages in 2002 when he held court about the things we knew and didn't know about the war in Iraq. You're probably already familiar with the briefing in question -- think known unknowns -- but, if not, here's the key quote.
"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know."
The known knowns of the Rangers team start with a lineup that's going to score a lot of runs. There's also the experience of two years as American League champions, good fielding at key positions and three starting pitchers who gave the team 600 innings of strong work last year.
Unknown unknowns exist for every team. Injuries, inexplicable declines in performance and sheer luck play a major role in every baseball season. It's impossible to know what those things are going to be on April 4th and how they are going to impact the season.
Known unknowns are the trickiest part of the deal. Will Neftali Feliz hold up as a starter? Is Mitch Moreland a decent player? Can Joe Nathan close effectively?
The biggest of the known unknowns is Yu Darvish. The Japanese pitcher came to Texas with a huge salary and even more hype this offseason to fill some pretty big shoes. C.J. Wilson fronted the rotation last year and took his 6 wins above replacement to Anaheim as a free agent, hurting the Rangers and helping boost their rivals at the same time.
Darvish has to make up some of that differential if the Rangers are going to hold onto the division, yet it's still a mystery just how much he'll be able to do by himself. The results this spring have been strong and statistical translations from Japan are promising, but we can't actually know how things are going to go until he actually gets on the mound.
If Darvish turns out to be a solid third starter in his first year in the U.S., is that enough to push the Rangers to another pennant? It could be, assuming Derek Holland builds on what he did last year and Feliz proves capable in his first year as a starter. But if there are injuries elsewhere in the rotation and/or Matt Harrison backslides, Darvish is going to have to be something more than that for the Rangers pitching to hang with what they've got in Anaheim.
We know that being something less foretells a bad end for the Rangers. Something more, though, and we could be looking at the rare contender for a Cy Young/Rookie of the Year double. And we'd almost certainly be looking at another champagne soaked end of the year in Arlington.
That's a lot of potential outcomes, but we know one thing for sure. Watching it unfold is going to be a lot more fun than what Rumsfeld had on his hands.