The Rangers won their second straight AL West title with 95 wins, the second-most in franchise history, leading the division from May 29 on. They went 15-4 against the Astros and 12-7 against the Mariners and an all-time best 36-11 in one-run games. That kind of magic won't happen again, which is why the AL West looks like a tough three-team race, maybe even four if things break right for the Angels.
2016: 95-67, plus-8 run differential, lost American League Division Series to Blue Jays
2017 projected record from FanGraphs: 82-80
Key moves so far: re-signed free-agent OF Carlos Gomez; signed free-agent P Andrew Cashner; lost free-agent OF Ian Desmond, DH Carlos Beltran, 1B Mitch Moreland, P Derek Holland.
As you can imagine, winning 95 games while barely outscoring your opponents is an unusual event. This unusual: Before last year's Rangers, since 1969, just 32 teams had won 95 games in a season; the average run differential for those teams was 123 runs, with the lowest figure at plus-76 by the 2011 Tigers. The Nationals also went 95-67 in 2016 and outscored their opponents by 151 runs. So remember, the 2016 Rangers were an extreme outlier; they may end up scoring more runs and allowing fewer in 2017 -- and still win fewer games.
Anyway, their path to the playoffs starts with ageless wonder Adrian Beltre and the one-two rotation punch of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Assume the same kind of production from those three, but with a full season from Darvish, and you have three stars. Despite some of the offseason losses, there are reasons to think the Rangers could have maybe the best offense in the league:
A full season from Shin-Soo Choo. He was terrific at the plate in 2015 with a .375 OBP but played just 48 games in 2016.
A more patient Rougned Odor. The 33 home runs were sweet, but he has to improve that .296 OBP.
Big power from Nomar Mazara. His rookie season produced an underwhelming .266/.320/.419 line after a strong start. Like Odor, he has to improve the discipline and pitch recognition to get into better counts, and his 20 home runs could turn into 30-plus.
Gomez. See below.
A full season from Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate.
Signing Mike Napoli. There are still several first baseman/DH types out there. The Rangers could scoop up Napoli to provide more of a sure thing than Joey Gallo or Ryan Rua.
The Rangers will need runs, because the rotation looks spotty behind Hamels, Darvish and Martin Perez. Good thing the bullpen is deep and manager Jeff Banister is one of the best in the biz.
Key player: Gomez. He struggled so badly in Houston that the Astros released him in August. The Rangers picked him up and he hit .284/.362/.543 in 33 games. Did he really find himself again after two seasons of struggles and injuries?