New series, new team, new installment of From the Other Side. Today I've got a Q&A with Dan Edmonson from Chicken Fried Baseball, a Texas Rangers blog (you can also follow him on Twitter). I'd like to thank him for being kind enough to help me out on this.
1. What, specifically, do you think is the key for the Rangers in getting back to (and ultimately winning) the World Series?
Dan: The key to the Rangers winning their first ever World Series will be the starting pitching. There doesn't seem to be much question that the offense will be one of the league's best, and with Neftali Feliz returning to the bullpen, relief pitching should also be a major source of strength. For the Rangers to achieve their ultimate goal, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis will have to repeat their 2010 performances, Derek Holland will need to mature into a reliable front-of-rotation pitcher, and in all likelihood, they will have to trade for another starter.
2. There was a lot of talk during spring training about possibly converting Neftali Feliz back into a starting pitcher. Do you see him in that role eventually, or is he better off as a closer?
Dan: The current plan is for Feliz to be a starting pitcher next season, and I have little doubt that he will be a member of the 2011 rotation. The Rangers decision to leave him in the 'pen this year had more to do with their closer options than their hopes for Feliz. In fact, I'm convinced that if some relievers had pitched better in spring training, or if Tommy Hunter's injury had been diagnosed a week earlier, Feliz would be in the rotation now. There will be a number of closers available in the upcoming free agent market, and I expect the Rangers to sign Neftali's replacement next winter.
3. Opinions are quite divided regarding the Tigers. What is your take on them as a Rangers fan, and how do you expect them to fare in the AL Central?
Dan: My "bold" pre-season prediction was for the Tigers to win the Wild Card. My pick was largely based upon the top-to-bottom strength of the AL East, and that the two worst teams in the AL appear to be in the Central division. I think it will be a close race among the top three teams, with the White Sox winning the division, and Minnesota finishing third. I think Max Scherzer could have a breakout season, Rick Porcello could develop into a strong middle-of-rotation starter, and that the Joaquin Benoit will help solidify the bullpen. I'm a little concerned about the defense up the middle, the lack of a legitimate fifth starter.
4. Which player (on either or both teams) maybe doesn't grab the headlines but is vital to his team's success?
Dan: He's new to the team, but I think Benoit will have a big impact. Many writers are coming around to the idea that a dominant set-up man can be more valuable than a closer, and Benoit is just that. For the Rangers, I think Colby Lewis might be one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Among qualifying starters, Lewis was fifth in the AL last season in strikeouts per nine innings (between Justin Verlander and Scherzer), posted a WHIP of 1.19, and ate innings. Using the "doesn't grab headlines" caveat, I would say David Murphy. Murphy is a well rounded player who seems to be good at everything, but great at nothing. In 138 games last season, he had a slash line of .291/.358/.449, and 14 steals in 16 attempts. He is the fourth outfielder, but manages to find his way into games, and makes the most out of his opportunities.