Rockies vs. Rangers series preview: Colorado begins home-and-home set with one of AL's best

Stephen Dunn

These aren't your older brother's Rangers: these guys are built on pitching, pitching and more pitching.

When you think of the Texas Rangers, you think of a terrorizing lineup full of players who can flat-out mash, whether it be at their hitter-friendly home ballpark or elsewhere. You think of the teams of several years ago that were led by Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young. And lineups that couldn't be adequately pitched around -- you know, that sort of stuff.

Now that most of those guys are gone, so is the reputation of all of those good Rangers teams from recent years. The current incarnation of the club is becoming known for its pitching, and that starts specifically with Yu Darvish.

Darvish dominated the American League in 2013, striking out a league-leading 277 batters in 209⅔ innings. He finished second to Max Scherzer in Cy Young voting but certainly made quite a case for himself, boasting a 2.83 ERA and league-low hit rate of 6.2 per nine innings.

That's a phenomenal season, but in many ways Darvish looks even better in 2014. His walks are down almost a full batter per nine innings and he's still got one of the best strikeout rates of any starter in the league. He also had to bounce back from an early season injury that caused him to miss his first start, but the 27-year-old right-hander has not missed a beat. Fortunately for the Rockies, they somehow won't draw Darvish during the upcoming four-game series.

Darvish is obviously good enough to carry the rotation, but it doesn't hurt having a couple of 25-and-under starters behind him in Martin Perez and Robbie Ross. Perez is off to a good start, posting a 2.95 ERA/2.76 FIP in 42⅔ innings. Perez does not whiff a lot of batters but limits walks and possesses a 56.3 percent ground ball rate, which as Rockies fans know, is a significant boost in a offense-oriented environment.

Like Perez, Ross doesn't have a penchant for blowing hitters away (though his K rate is a more respectable 7.7 per nine innings). However, he's good at attacking hitters and induces grounders at a 60.4 percent clip. Ross is a bit more hittable than Perez (and definitely more so than Darvish), but that's been as a result of a slightly inflated BABIP of .333. He's been good enough at the things he can control to get away with a sub-4.00 ERA, which is just fine for a young pitcher who was thrust into the middle of a big league rotation partially because of injuries.

The Rangers are still capable with the bats. They're not as good as they used to be in that area, and home runs have come at a bit of a premium this season (their team leader has only three). However, having Shin-Soo Choo at the top of their lineup has allowed the team to get traffic on the basepaths early and often. Choo is hitting .349/.482/.535 in his first year in Texas but has battled a sore ankle as of late, coinciding with a mediocre stretch of baseball from the Rangers. Still, he's as good a leadoff hitter as there is in the game, and the Rockies will have to keep him under wraps if they want to have a chance at a successful series.

Alex Rios (.328/.362/.475) is the only other above-average regular on the team, but the Rangers are full of players who have tremendous track records and could heat up at any time. This, unfortunately, might be the series where they do just that. Particularly, they have a shot to get hot against Jordan Lyles, who has not been successful against this particular group of hitters in his career:


PA

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Adrian Beltre

17

6

2

0

0

2

0

3

.353

.353

.471

.824

Elvis Andrus

15

5

0

0

0

0

1

3

.385

.467

.385

.851

Mitch Moreland

13

1

0

0

0

0

2

1

.091

.231

.091

.322

Prince Fielder

7

3

1

0

1

2

0

0

.429

.429

1.000

.429

Leonys Martin

6

2

1

0

0

3

1

0

.400

.500

.600

1.000

Alex Rios

5

3

1

0

0

3

0

0

.600

.600

.800

.400

J.P. Arencibia

3

1

0

0

1

1

0

0

.333

.333

.333

.667

R. Chirinos

3

1

1

0

0

0

0

1

.333

.333

.667

1.000

Shin-Soo Choo

3

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

.000

.333

.000

.333

Colby Lewis

3

2

0

0

0

2

0

1

.667

.667

.667

.333

Lyles looks like a new pitcher in 2014, but he's had stretches of success other times in his career, and those often ended at the hands of the Rangers.

Residing in Texas' bullpen is rejuvenated closer Joakim Soria, who was one of the best relievers in the game that nobody knew about while in Kansas City. He dealt with various injuries and the normal type of ineffectiveness that bullpen arms are prone to experience, but he's back with a vengeance at the back-end of the Rangers' pen. Soria has allowed only five hits in 12 innings and has notched 14 strikeouts compared to only two walks. The 30-year-old right-hander walked 5.3 batters per nine innings last season, so a renewed ability to limit walks will go a long way.

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