The Texas Rangers have four straight winning seasons, three straight in the postseason, and have been in two of the last three World Series.
So you'd think they know what they're doing, right?
I mention this because there are no fewer than five former major-league Cubs in camp for the Rangers this spring (Geovany Soto, Jeff Beliveau, Randy Wells, Jeff Baker and Neal Cotts), along with a couple of other ex-Cub minor leaguers (Jake Brigham, James Adduci).
Of course, only a couple of these guys have any real chance of making the team -- Soto will back up A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate (and that seems odd, too; two former Chicago catchers will be the entire Texas catching corps); Beliveau and Wells have an outside shot at making the pitching staff and Baker might catch on as a bench player. But it's still very odd to see all those former Cubs names in camp for a team that has a shot at making the playoffs.
They'll have to do it without Josh Hamilton, who left as a free agent; they don't have any real ready replacement for the power he provided. Lance Berkman was hired to be the Rangers' DH, but Berkman spent much of last year injured and it looked like he was going to retire before Texas lured him back with a $12 million offer (and a $12 million team option for 2015). Berkman's been counted out before; he looked like he was fading after 2010, but had a very good year for the Cardinals in 2011. He played in just 32 games in 2012 due to injury. If he can hit, the Rangers will have replaced at least some of Hamilton's bat.
Texas also is in transition in the infield, with top prospects Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar (Profar is the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America) pushing for playing time. Olt, a third baseman, won't be pushing Adrian Beltre off third base, so they either need to find another position for him or trade him (Hint! Hint! I can think of a team that needs a third baseman!).
Texas pitching was middle-of-the-pack in 2012, and figures to be about the same in 2013; Yu Darvish was good in his first MLB season and could get better. Joe Nathan closed well enough in 2012 (2.80 ERA, 1.057 WHIP, 37 saves), but he's 38. How long can he keep it going?
The Rangers also have to live down spectacular collapses each of the last two years, coming within one strike of a World Series win in 2011, and blowing a five-game lead with nine to play in the AL West in 2012, losing the division title to the Athletics on the last day of the regular season, forcing them into the wild-card game which they lost to the Orioles. (See how important winning your division is?)
But it's a new year. Hope for everyone! (Well, almost everyone.) The Rangers, along with everyone else in the American League West, get to beat up on the Astros this year.
The Rangers will be the Cubs' first interleague opponent, visiting Wrigley Field April 16, 17 and 18. Hope they like cold weather. This will be the Cubs' first-ever interleague series in the month of April.
This concludes our look at the Cubs' opponents. Monday, I'll have a more detailed look at the Cubs themselves, now that we are getting closer to Opening Day and some of the battles for roster spots appear closer to clarification.