Rangers seem the team to beat in AL West

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    It seems the Texas Rangers have a knack for attracting offseason chaos and drama.

    In 2009, after being told by the organization to move to third base, Michael Young demanded a trade. The opening of the 2010 spring training was marred by the revelations that manager Ron Washington had tested positive for cocaine.

    Not to be outdone, now former Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg, the unofficial mouthpiece of the franchise and who was instrumental in the long and arduous purchasing process that ended in a Hollywood-like auction, abruptly resigned this month after numerous disagreements with Nolan Ryan and owners of the team. And — oh yeah — Michael Young, the longest-tenured player on the squad, demanded a trade again after he was told to move to designated hitter and play as a “super utility” infielder.

    But the 2011 season is different. Rather than another year of hoping for the Rangers to end their decade of futility, the team is now expected to make the playoffs after winning a playoff series for the first time and advancing to its first World Series. But enough about expectations. Do the Rangers have the squad that can make another trip to the World Series? The answer right now, sadly, is probably not.

    The biggest question mark on the staff this season is the pitching staff. C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, both question marks entering the year, had great years last season and were the biggest reason why Texas was able to pull ahead of the rest of the AL West fairly early in the season. But the rest of the starting rotation is a mystery.

    Tommy Hunter, who the Rangers were going to have to rely on after the departure of Cliff Lee, is injured until May with a strained right groin. The club announced this week that Alexi Ogando, who pitched in relief last year, will take over for Hunter to begin the season. It’s puzzling as to why closer Neftali Feliz was not chosen over Ogando, but that’s for another time.

    Derek Holland, who has not shown in his career that he can be anything more than a bottom of the rotation pitcher, is going to have to be the third starter this season.

    Who will hold the final spot of the rotation at the moment is a mystery but will probably be either Matt Harrison, Eric Hurley or Michael Kirkman, all of whom have been bad in their time in the majors. The Rangers have by far the weakest rotation in their division and possibly one of the weakest in the entire American League.

    The bats, on the other hand, look to be in great shape, but injuries remain a concern for the top players on the squad.

    After a disappointing regular season, Elvis Andrus had a great postseason. He hit well, got on base with frequency and was a nuisance for pitchers on the basepaths. If he can translate that performance to an entire season, Andrus can become one of the most electrifying players in the league.

    When healthy, second baseman Ian Kinsler and outfielder Nelson Cruz both have shown they can be MVP-caliber difference-makers in the lineup. And newcomer Adrian Beltre will provide a massive upgrade on defense at third base as well as another power bat opposing pitchers will have to deal with.

    And what can you say about Josh Hamilton? The reigning AL MVP had an astounding .359 batting average in 2010 and got on base in 41 percent of his at bats. He also hit 32 home runs and struck out fewer than 100 times. Even though he missed a month of playing time, he had by far the greatest single season in Rangers history. Repeating those same numbers will be a tall task for Hamilton, but he’s shown the ability to be a perennial MVP candidate if he can stay healthy. Hopefully, putting Hamilton in left field will prevent some of those nasty collisions with the outfield walls that sidelined him in September last season

    Fortunately for the Rangers, the competition in the division did not improve much, either. The Oakland Athletics added a few more bats to their lineup, and their young pitching staff will only get better but not enough to overtake the Rangers.

    The Los Angeles Angels had a hilarious offseason after acquiring Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade, which ESPN.com baseball writer Keith Law called a “desperation move” by the organization. The club will now have to pay almost all of the $86 million left on his contract over the next four years. And poor Seattle. Besides Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki, there’s little talent to be found on the Mariners, and that ball club is a few years away from competing for a playoff spot again.

    But while getting into the playoffs is still a big accomplishment in baseball, the odds of the Rangers beating the Boston Red Sox, the best team in the AL right now, are slim to none. While the Rangers may be able to win a first round playoff series against a weakened Yankees squad, the Rangers won’t make it further than the American League Championship Series. While that would have been cause for a parade in years past, the result this time around would feel more like a disappointment. But the fact that the Rangers are even considered one of the teams to beat this season shows just how far this team has come over the years. Let the games begin.

    Texas Rangers vs. Boston Red Sox

    Texas Rangers vs. Boston Red Sox

    When: 3:05 p.m. Friday

    Projected starters: C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA)

    When: 7:05 p.m. Saturday

    Projected starters: Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA) vs. John Lackey (14-11, 4.40 ERA)

    When: 1:05 p.m. Sunday

    Projected starters: Matt Harrison (3-2, 4.71 ERA) vs. Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33 ERA)

    All pitchers’ stats are from the 2010 season.