Dodging the win total question.

I could give you three reasons why the Rangers will win the American League West, and three why they won’t.

I could give you three each on the Angels, too, and the Mariners.  Maybe two and four on the A’s.

We saw win totals predicted from all corners this weekend, locally and nationally, and I suppose that in at least some cases it was at an editor’s request.  The fans demand it, right?  I guess.

Tell me in August whether you think the Cowboys are a 12-4 team, or headed toward 9-7.  I get that.  But why don’t we talk much in October about whether the Mavs are a 48- or 56-win club?  Or whether the Stars are poised for 95 points, or instead just 85?

In basketball and hockey, where they play five times as many games as in football, only the experts talk on the eve of the season about win or point totals.  Are they a playoff team?  Are they ready to lock down home court/ice?  Do they have a chance to contend for a title?  That’s what we hear about.  As it should be.

In baseball, they play 10 times as often as in football, double the number of games of their arena friends.  But for some reason we get bogged down on whether this is the year we win 92 instead of 87.

Someone who confidently chooses one number over the other before the first W or L is recorded must have a handle on when and how well Ian Kinsler will come back from his high ankle sprain – and on whether he can avoid trying to do too much like he did last summer when others were out of the lineup, on what Vladimir Guerrero has left, on whether Rich Harden can flip the switch right away, on whether Ron Washington’s situation will galvanize or distract or neither, on whether Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis will be able to lock 2008 back in, on Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz taking the next step, on how that seven-game swing through Boston and Detroit coming out of the Break will go, on what C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison and Chris Ray will be, on the way Clint Hurdle’s proposed approach will affect results, on how Julio Borbon will fare now that there’s a book out there on him, on which three Mariners starters Texas will face days after the trade deadline, on whether Scott Feldman and Neftali Feliz can repeat, on the catchers, on what sorts of contributions we’ll get from Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland and Brandon McCarthy and Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers and Justin Smoak, on whether Guillermo Moscoso and Eric Hurley and Pedro Strop and Michael Kirkman and Omar Beltre will be needed and how they’ll respond, on the odds of Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver staying steady, on how many days the regular players on this club will lose to the disabled list.

I don’t expect this to be a 96-win club, or a 76-win club.  But I think it’s silly to argue whether it’s an 85-win roster, rather than a squad poised to win 88 times.

The talk last September 13, when Texas won Game One of a twinbill against Seattle, 7-2, to improve to 80-61, was whether, despite dwindling playoff chances, the team could cross that elusive 90-win plateau by putting together a winning record over the final 21 games.  Nobody saw a 7-14 collapse and 87 wins coming. 

Yet, though there are eight times as many regular season games left to play today, writers are assertively picking the number 87 or 89 or 92 out of the air and asking players and officials to weigh in.

I have no idea what the Rangers’ 2010 win total will, or should, be.  I’m not sure if Texas will win its baseball game this afternoon.  I do have a pretty good idea who will suit up for Texas and Toronto this week, though, and my focus is on Feldman-Shaun Marcum, Harden-Brian Tallet, and Wilson-Ricky Romero.  Even then, coming out of this series with three wins, two, one, or none probably doesn’t tell us much more about where this thing is headed than we believe we know today. 

Minnesota started the 2009 season 4-7, the Angels 4-8.  Both played past 162.

I won’t guess what the Texas record will be in a week, let alone in six months, but I’m counting on this group to play hard and play smart and play well for three-and-a-half months, well enough to justify the addition of two impact players in July, maybe one of them in time for a huge July 22-29, seven-game set against the Angels and A’s in Arlington, the other before a three-game series in Anaheim concludes on August 1. 

No matter what the record is at that point, I won’t hazard a guess as to what it will be two months later after the Mariners and Angels come into Rangers Ballpark for 156 through 162.  And I certainly won’t pretend I’ve got a bead on that final number today.

I’m more interested in whether Texas wins a game than what the final score was.  The important thing, whether it was a pitchers’ duel or a slugfest, a blowout or an extra-inning walkoff, is that we were better than the other guys on that day.  Same with the season.  As long as we’re better than enough of the other guys to keep playing beyond October 3, it doesn’t matter to me how many games we won, or how big a cushion we had in the standings.

Predictions are fun.  So are video games, and turning double plays in your backyard (you’re Bert Campaneris, he’s Bump Wills). 

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t close our eyes and imagine the electricity of a September in Arlington that’s about more than just a football season that will end with the hosting of a Super Bowl.  This is unquestionably a year about which the players are thinking that way, management is thinking that way, an ownership group on the doorstep is thinking that way, and for all those reasons we should feel even more emboldened thinking that way.

But I look at this like I would the onset of a basketball or hockey season.  Don’t ask me for an over-under on victories.  Is this a playoff team?  Will the Rangers do enough, starting today, to win more times than 10 other teams in the league?  I don’t know, but this is about to be a year where that’s the question, not whether “progress” will be made.  The answer is likely going to depend on how many of those real player questions get answered acceptably. 

And on which of those three reasons to say yes, and three reasons to say no, will come to pass.  No formula can help us there, and just as no formula could have predicted 17 wins last year for Feldman, or 54 RBI for Hamilton, or seven wins over the final 21, trying to figure out now how many of the 162 that lay in front of us will end with daps near the mound is probably a waste of energy.

I know this much: They’re always fascinating, but this Rangers baseball season, with the engines set to start in a few hours, promises to be one that we’re going to remember for a very long time. 

Hopefully for the right reasons.

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(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

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