Expect The Rangers To Contend For A While

Previewing The 2015 World Series

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CHICAGO—The 1986 Red Sox and 2011 Rangers are the only teams to get within one strike of winning the World Series and fail to close the deal.

After Calvin Schiraldi and Bill Buckner went down in infamy, Boston had to wait another 18 years to capture a championship. Texas won't have to endure nearly as long after David Freese broke its heart last October.

The Rangers are coming off consecutive American League pennants and their future looks even brighter. Texas returns most of its team from last year, having swapped out C.J. Wilson for a likely upgrade in Yu Darvish.

This is just the beginning. The Rangers have baseball's best farm system, with shortstop Jurickson Profar, lefthander Martin Perez and third baseman Mike Olt poised to make an impact. Beyond them lies a second wave of high-upside prospects, such as catcher Jorge Alfaro, third baseman Christian Villanueva and rightander Matt West.

Texas will start pocketing $80 million annually from a Fox Sports Southwest broadcast deal after the 2014 season. With its money and talent, the Rangers will be able to retain the players it wants and acquire anyone they desire on the trade and free-agent markets.

It's time for our annual three-years-ahead season preview column, and our crystal ball was clear: Texas will win it all in 2015.

Yankees Win Toughest Division

Sorting out the stacked AL East was much more difficult than anointing the Rangers as 2015 champions. The Yankees will prevail, fortified from within by youngsters such as lefthander Manny Banuelos, catcher/first baseman Gary Sanchez and outfielder Mason Williams and also by the free-agent signings of Felix Hernandez and Joakim Soria. But that won't be enough to get past Texas in the AL Championship Series.

The Red Sox will have to settle for the wild card, with outfielder Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and catcher Blake Swihart spicing up the lineup and Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes joining a homegrown rotation. The Blue Jays will finish a strong third as their young pitching hasn't quite settled into a groove in the majors, and the Rays (previously picked in this column to win it all in 2012 and '13 before losing to the Braves in the '14 World Series) won't have the depth to overcome their division rivals.

In the AL Central, the Royals will have a formidable offense with MVP Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas at the infield corners; Wil Myers, Bubba Starling, Alex Gordon in the outfield; and Billy Butler at DH. They will have enough pitching, with 2012 first-rounder Kevin Gausman and Jake Odorizzi at the front of its rotation, to outlast the Tigers.

The Angels won't beat out the Rangers in the AL West—Darvish does his part by winning the Cy Young Award—but Los Angeles will claim the second wild card. Mike Trout and second baseman Jean Segura will set the table for Albert Pujols and DH C.J. Cron, providing plenty of offense for Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Wilson.

Snakes Capture NL Pennant

The Phillies still will be contenders three years from now, but age and a thinned-out farm system will combine to keep them in second place in the NL East and out of the playoffs. The Nationals will supplant them as the division's new power, with outfielder Bryce Harper and second baseman Anthony Rendon driving the offense and Cy Young Award winner Stephen Strasburg headlining a deep rotation of Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Alex Meyer and Matt Purke.

The Reds will edge the Cardinals in the NL Central with an entirely homegrown lineup that features no easy outs (Devin Mesoraco at catcher; Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier around the infield; and 2012 first-rounder Albert Almora, Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce in the outfield). Daniel Corcino gives Cincinnati a solid No. 3 starter behind Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto.

St. Louis builds its wild-card team in similar fashion, with homegrown products at seven of its eight lineup spots (including newcomers Kolten Wong at second, Zack Cox at third and Oscar Taveras in right field) and two more (Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez) as the most electric arms on the pitching staff.

Out West, the Diamondbacks ride baseball's best rotation—Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Archie Bradley, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson—to a narrow division win over the Giants. NL MVP Justin Upton continues to drive the offense.

In San Francisco, the rotation remains built around Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Outfielders Brandon Belt and Gary Brown make sure Buster Posey doesn't have to carry the offense by himself, and that's enough to get into the playoffs.

Having Washington play a team that abandoned the nation's capital in the World Series would make for an interesting story, but the Nationals won't be able to get past the Diamondbacks' pitching in the NLCS. The Rangers' deeper lineup will be the difference in the World Series, and this time they won't let the championship slip away.