Opening Day preview: Rangers face AL champion Indians

Texas has work to do before '17 to become World Series-contending club

Opening Day preview: Rangers face AL champion Indians

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers were hoping to face the Indians in the American League Championship Series this October.

Instead, the Rangers will have to settle for facing the defending AL champions on Opening Day 2017. The Rangers and the Indians are scheduled to meet on April 3 at Globe Life Park in Arlington with the time still to be determined.

The Rangers will enter 2017 seeking their third straight AL West title after finishing 95-67 this past season, the best record in the league. The Indians offer a good first test for the Rangers.

With the World Series over and the offseason just getting started, there are five months to go before Opening Day, and the Rangers still have work to do in putting together a Fall Classic-contending team.

But hey, Opening Day is the next meaningful game the Rangers will play, so why not start looking forward to it now? By then, we will have a new president, Super Bowl champion and Oscar-winning Best Picture.

Even now, the Rangers have a pretty good club to put on the field before they start making their offseason moves.

The Indians figure to send No. 1 starter Corey Kluber, who won 18 games for them in 2016, to the mound. He is 2-1 with a 3.67 ERA in four career starts against the Rangers. In '16, the Rangers won five of seven against the Tribe.

Opening Day starter
Manager Jeff Banister will likely choose between Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Hamels appears to be the logical choice based on his experience and track record. It would be his fourth Opening Day assignment in the past five years.

Opening Day lineup
Most notable is at the top of the order. The Rangers expect Shin-Soo Choo to be healthy again and an everyday player as he enters the fourth season of his seven-year contract. That's not likely to change this offseason regardless of what the Rangers do.

Also worth watching this offseason is if the Rangers are ready to commit to Joey Gallo in a full-time role. He is the designated hitter here, but he could end up at first base. Ryan Rua should have some kind of role on the team as he has proven to be a valuable player who can hit and play multiple positions.

The Rangers will find plenty of competition for center field and first base, but Delino DeShields was the Opening Day center fielder this past season.

1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
2. Nomar Mazara, LF
3. Rougned Odor, 2B
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Jonathan Lucroy, C
6. Joey Gallo, DH
7. Ryan Rua, 1B
8. Elvis Andrus, SS
9. Delino DeShields, CF

Three reasons to be excited
1. Martin Perez and Darvish will be fully recovered from their Tommy John surgeries and are poised for breakout seasons.

2. The Rangers' collection of young hitters is finally through its growing pains and will be much more polished at the plate.

3. The bullpen will be dynamic again with its collection of power arms.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.