On April 1 the Texas Rangers will begin their first defense of an American League Championship, the first in franchise history. The 2010 American League Champions will host a possible 2011 American League playoff team, the Boston Red Sox, when the 2011 campaign begins Friday at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington.
After the Rangers woke up from their World Series slumber, Cliff Lee departed for Philadelphia, Adrian Beltre joined the Rangers and Michael Young asked to play in a different uniform.
After all the offseason drama the Rangers are now finally ready to break camp and begin the 2011 season.
Here is a team by team breakdown of the American League West as they each get ready to take down the reigning AL champs, who reside in Arlington.†
Los Angeles Angels
Last Year: 80-82, 3rd place
Lineup: Largely a lineup that looks similar to last yearís third place performance that finished 23rd overall in the majors due primarily to the injured Kendry Morales who will still be injured when the season opens.
The Angels added Vernon Wells to their outfield and in the middle of their order to attempt to bolster their offense.† With a healthy Kendry Morales, the Angelsí lineup will become more dangerous, but until then, itís a lineup that has some holes.
Pitching Staff: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana are at the top of a rotation that is one of the best in the American League when healthy. Expected to be the fourth man in this rotation, Joel Pineiro, is battling a sore shoulder this spring which weakens this rotationís depth.†
Los Angelesí bullpen could be pinned as the primary reason for the Angelsí below .500 season last season.† The addition of Scott Downs (broken toe) and Hisanori Takahashi is expected to help stabilize the bullpen. Fernando Rodeny will close and is largely unproven after taking over following the trading of Brian Fuentes.
Why the Angels can win the West: A healthy Morales with a strong three starters at the top of the rotation and a stabilized bullpen makes the Angels a tough team to beat. But until those three components fall together, the Angels will still have holes in them.
Last Year: 81-81, 2nd place
Lineup: After finishing next to last in the majors in home runs last year, the Aís added David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, and Hideki Matsui to the 3-4-5 slots in the lineup, making their line-up much more formidable.†
The Aís still will not be able to out swing the Rangers or a healthy Angelsí lineup, but that may not be necessary with their pitching staff.
Pitching Staff: Just saying the names should make any pitching guru get excited. Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden round out the deepest top four pitchers in the AL West.†
The best addition the Aís made to their pitching staff is another year of experience to this young and talented rotation.
With Andrew Bailey (when fully healthy) and Brian Fuentes at the back end of each game, if the Aís can get each game with a lead to these two, it will be tough for any team to win.†
Why the Aís can win the West: Simply put, pitching. The Aís have one of the most talented and young staffs in the majors and definitely in the American League West. If their offense can score just enough runs, the Aís appear to have a roster that can challenge the Angels and Rangers.†
Last Year: 61-101, last place
Lineup: After the top of the order regulars Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins, the questions get deeper for the Mariners. Can Milton Bradley really hit third and stay focused?† Can Jack Cust stay consistent in the clean-up spot? Can Justin Smoak hit for average and hit for the power that is expected of this young prospect?
Manager Eric Wedge believes this offense is capable of more than it produced last year and it should be able to after finishing last in almost every category last year.†
Pitching Staff: After Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez, the Marinersí rotation falls off significantly.† Jason Vargas and Doug Fister round out the two and three spots in the rotation with a combined 15-26 record and an ERA a little under four.†
With closer David Aardsma out until sometime in late May, the Mariners are asking Brandon League to close (6 for 12 in save situations last year) and also moving everyone up one slot until Aardsma can stabilize an already suspect bullpen.†
Why the Mariners can win the West: Perhaps better stated, the Mariners can win the West if every other team in the division has two or three major injuries.
Seattleís talent in the lineup and on the mound are lacking and are behind every team in the AL West.
Last Year: 90-72, 1st place
Lineup: The American League Champions added Adrian Beltre, Yorvit Torrealba, and Mike Napolo to an already potent lineup. Texas returns largely the same strong lineup that helped them reach their first ever World Series.
Ian Kinsler will leadoff and will be followed by Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Mitch Moreland. No AL West lineup is that deep.
Moreland and center field Julio Borbon (hitting ninth) present the most questions for the Rangers offensively, but at least questions about Texas lineup start at the seven slot. Many other teamsí questions start well before that.†
Pitching Staff: Texas will roll out largely the same pitching staff that won them the AL West last year. C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis will anchor it with Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter and Matt Harrison completing the five-man rotation.
Yes, they lack Cliff Lee, but in May the Rangers will finally get to the mound former Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb.
As this is being written the Rangers have a major question to answer, should Neftali Feliz start or close?
Feliz has been showing he may be able to be a top of the rotation pitcher so far this March, but if Feliz is moved from the bullpen, the Rangers are left trying to make a closer from an in-house candidate (Alexi Ogando is the favorite) or going outside the organization to find a proven closer.
Feliz starting could throw an already proven strong bullpen into question, but could also bolster the third-rated rotation in the division.†
Why the Rangers can win the West: With mostly the same rotation that won last yearís division and a stronger and deeper offense, the Rangers, until beaten, will remain the favorite in the AL West.†
Their rotation, although third in the division in talent, gets Brandon Webb in likely late April or early May and could get Neftali Feliz every fifth day, adding depth and talent to a consistent pitching staff.
Texas boasts the most complete team in the division with a good offense and a steady pitching staff.†
Their main contenders will come from a strong Athletics rotation and fully healthy Angels roster.†
Two national publications, SportingNews and ESPN magazine, have the Rangers winning the West.