video thumbnail

SD@TEX: Lewis on his start vs. Padres, Opening Day

The last time the Texas Rangers played a game with meaning, they had a World Series championship in their grasp -- twice -- and let it slip away, losing a Game 6 for the ages and then Game 7 in St. Louis.

The mission now is to start all over again and make 2012 something that will allow the Rangers and their fans to release the grip of '11 once and for all.

The journey begins at Rangers Ballpark on Friday against a Chicago White Sox outfit under new manager Robin Ventura that could answer to Paul Konerko and the 24 Mysterians. President Obama's favorite team might lead the American League in question marks.

The Sox designated southpaw John Danks to engage right-hander Colby Lewis on Opening Day.

One of the coolest players ever to handle the hot corner, Ventura had a wonderful career and now embarks on a new one, full of challenges. One of Ventura's tasks in his first managerial spring is to extract offensive production from Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham, each trying to rebound from disappointing 2011 seasons.

If these three can help Konerko -- write him down for 30 homers, 100 RBIs and a .280 to .300 average -- the White Sox can score enough runs in their cozy home ballpark to allow their solid group of starters to breathe a little easier.

"For me, it was more mental than physical and the ability," Ventura said of the trio of slumbering boppers who showed renewed life in the spring. "The ability is there. Every season's different, so to see the way they were motivated when they came in was important. I'm happy that they've been able to keep that going."

As many "ifs" as there are surrounding the White Sox, they can't possibly measure up to the "what-ifs" the Rangers must let go of as they try to forget about that one strike, that one last out that eluded them against the miracle Cardinals.

The Rangers' leader, Michael Young, has done everything he can to put it all in the deep freeze and forge ahead. Mr. Ranger insists his teammates will not carry a hangover into the new season.

"That's something that takes on a life of its own," Young said, "but it's on the outside, not with anybody on this club. If you're a competitor, you don't let it affect you.

"The last two years have been great for us and the [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex. Our work's not done. We know we have a lot of talent here, and we know what we have to do."

The Rangers have a freewheeling clubhouse filled with colorful characters. It's a good thing, too. Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre last season and Yu Darvish this spring are quickly embraced and made to feel comfortable. They have a great deal of fun together -- right up to the time when the game faces surface.

"The good thing about this group is new guys become part of the core quickly," Young said. "Nap has been here a year and is a huge part of the team. Adrian is a great guy on the club.

"If you go out and play hard and fit in, you're going to be part of a fun atmosphere. But at 6 o'clock, it gets serious. It's all business on the field."

In his walk year, Josh Hamilton -- the most talented player on the roster and perhaps in the sport -- needs to avoid serious injuries and stay on the field, more than ever with the Angels roaring. The center fielder can win a second American League Most Valuable Player Award if he does, which would pay off handsomely if he enters free agency in November.

A four-time All-Star, Hamilton has played 89, 133 and 121 games the past three seasons.

The Rangers have depth everywhere, starting with the league's best table-setting duo in Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. Beltre, Napoli, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland are all capable of launching bombs along with Hamilton and Kinsler.

Joining Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and former closer Neftali Feliz in a potentially dominant rotation, the towering Darvish is the X factor. AL hitters don't know him, and his stuff is real. If he replaces C.J. Wilson's 16 wins, the Rangers will be content. But he has the stuff to go beyond that if everything falls in place.

New closer Joe Nathan had some spring struggles, but he has a long history of getting outs under pressure. Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando have closer stuff should Nathan struggle to find his old lights-out stuff.

Wilson is in Southern California with Albert Pujols, making sure the Rangers don't earn a third consecutive AL West title. That would match the roll the Angels were on when Texas interceded in 2010 and took over division supremacy.

White Sox: Closer possibilities abound
• Having dealt Sergio Santos to Toronto, the White Sox do not have a proven closer. Ventura feels he has impressive candidates in Matt Thornton, Hector Santiago, Addison Reed and Jesse Crain. "I feel good with the way our back end of the bullpen is," Ventura said.

• Another impressive reliever has been rookie Nate Jones, who has a big curveball to go with some serious heat. "You see a guy like Nate Jones who has come through, who didn't necessarily have a spot when you visualize it, and all of a sudden you go through Spring Training and see how he has progressed and done things," Ventura said. "Those are the good surprises."

• "There are a lot of positives still around here," White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said. "We are more optimistic than some other people."

Rangers: Ross makes jump from Double-A
• Robbie Ross, a second-round pick out of high school in 2008, made the jump from Double-A to the Texas bullpen with a brilliant spring. Ross was 10-5 with a 2.34 ERA in 27 games at Double-A Frisco and Class A Myrtle Beach last season. Only six of those starts were at the Double-A level.

• Versatile Brandon Snyder, who made the 25-man roster with a strong spring showing, is on the Rangers' depth chart in four roles: at first and third base, in left field and at DH. In 33 at-bats with the Orioles the past two seasons, he hit .273 with a .351 on-base percentage. A first-round Draft pick in 2005 from Las Vegas, Snyder was primarily a first baseman in the Minor Leagues.

Worth noting
• A strong start through a tough April and May schedule, featuring 26 games against the division and 14 in a row to begin May, will be essential for the White Sox.

• Thirteen of the Rangers' first 21 games will be at home, with the Mariners, Yankees and Rays following the White Sox into Rangers Ballpark this month. Comments