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As title defense begins, Rangers seek elusive World Series repeat

(AP photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)

 

ARLINGTON — Evan Carter was 5 years old when David Robertson made his MLB debut in 2008.

Robertson has been around, in other words. The right-hander, who turns 39 on April 9, has seen all sorts of teams enter a season looking as if they would be sure-fire World Series contenders, only to fade, fizzle or flop.

“I thought that about the Mets,” Robertson said of the team that signed him last offseason. The Mets traded him in July after raising the white flag.

A baseball season is a behemoth, a 162-game monster with trouble bearing its teeth around every corner. No one knows how a team, no matter how good it looks on paper, is going to fare until it starts playing games.

“No one’s just going to give you another ring,” said Robertson, who won the 2009 World Series with the Yankees and hasn’t won another title.

He’s right.

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Repeating is a daunting task. It hasn’t been done since the Yankees’ three-peat from 1998 to 2000. Winning one isn’t easy, as the 104-win Braves and 101-win Orioles from last season can attest.

A team that didn’t even win its division in 2023, the Rangers, won it all.

No one with the Rangers knows the difficulty in defending a title better than manager Bruce Bochy. His three championship Giants teams failed to reach the postseason the next season after winning it all.

“It’s not easy,” Bochy said.

Robertson’s 2010 Yankees lost to the Rangers the next season in the American League Championship Series. General manager Chris Young’s 2016 Royals failed to repeat, as did Nathan Eovaldi’s 2019 Red Sox and Corey Seager’s 2021 Dodgers.

Beyond staying healthy, there’s another key component a team needs to repeat: not being complacent.

The good news, after six weeks of spring training, is that the Rangers seem dialed in on the task ahead of them. They don’t feel any entitlement as they approach the defense of the first world championship in franchise history

The first step is Opening Day. It’s finally here.

“You have to stay hungry,” Bochy said. “There’s still going to be hoopla and celebration, but you have to remind yourself to get ready. It’s a new year, a new season, a new race. We’ve got work to do. The only way we’re going to get it done it to work.”

The Rangers believe they can be better than they were in 2023, which is saying something for a club that won it all. They know they lost their grip on several leads late in games because of a faulty bullpen that blew more saves (33) than it converted (30).

Young addressed that in the offseason with the acquisitions of Robertson and Kirby Yates, another right-hander with history closing games. Jose Leclerc might be the closer after a strong postseason and spring, but Robertson, Yates and Josh Sborz, who also blossomed in the playoffs, give the Rangers confidence late in games.

“There’s no doubt we’re a better bullpen,” Bochy said. “Now, we’ve got to go out an do it.”

The lineup remains mostly in tact, and Seager (sports hernia) and Josh Jung (left calf) have been deemed ready to go to start the season. The Rangers will have a full season of their “Little Savior” from late last season, outfielder Evan Carter, and 2023 first-round pick Wyatt Langford has made the club and will play every day.

Most concerns are with the starting rotation. The Rangers did not re-sign left-hander Jordan Montgomery and will be without right-handers Max Scherzer, Tyler Mahle and Jacob deGrom for extended stretches to open the season.

Eovaldi is starting the opener at 6:35 tonight against the Cubs, and the Rangers haven’t set the order behind him. It will be some configuration of Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning and Cody Bradford, with Michael Lorenzen expected to join within the first two weeks of the season.

It’s worth noting the Eovaldi, Gray, Heaney and Dunning were in the rotation much of the first half last season, when the Rangers established themselves as postseason contenders.

“The main thing is us making sure we stay healthy, and we’ve just got to go out there and pitch the way we’re able to pitch,” Eovaldi said. “Go out there, command the strike zone, get ahead and try to go as deep into the game as we can.”

Eovaldi banged the drum on complacency early in spring camp, noting that the 2019 Red Sox did start off the season well and couldn’t climb out of the hole they dug. The Rangers have a difficult schedule to start the season, with four of the first five series against projected playoff teams.

Two of those series are against the Astros, who many have picked to win the American League West over the Rangers. Houston won it last year, on the season’s final day, and it still doesn’t sit well with the Rangers.

“We all have our eyes set on the division,” Jung said. “That’s something we failed to do last year.”

Hunger? Check.

Better bullpen? Check.

Six returning All-Stars and two Rookie of the Year candidates? Check.

The reigning world champions can be better in 2024. They will have to be in order to defend their World Series title.

“I think we can be better. I expect us to be better,” Bochy said. “That’s what we’re here for, to get better. We’ve got to believe that. We did not win our division last year. We’ve got work to do.”

Jeff Wilson, jeff@rangerstoday.com

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Jeff Wilson

Sports reporter for two decades. Sports fan for life. Covers the Texas Rangers. Graduate of TCU. Colorado native. Author of Purple Passion: TCU Football Legends (https://t.co/2fmXLyympx). Follow me on Twitter at @JeffWilsonTXR

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