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. . . almost . . . there . . .

By Jason K. Thompson

With Opening Day just TWO DAYS away, I'm getting really excited for baseball to be back. This is one of the most anticipated Rangers seasons that I can remember, and the most anticipated one since 2001 for sure (that's when we got A-Rod, remember?). And what a great season that was.

So let's say we should all look forward to baseball, but what can we legitimately expect from our team? I've heard differing opinions on who will win the AL West this year; in fact, I've heard at least one prediction with every team winning. However, the only predictions I've heard with the Rangers on top have been here in Dallas. But what does that matter? The only prediction that really matters is mine, so here goes:

Needless to say, I really hope the Rangers pull off the division championship, but it's hard for me to see it, realistically. I think the best team in the west is Seattle. Just remember: last year they only finished two games behind the Rangers, and all they've done is add great players. Actually, they did lose Adrian Beltre, but he has been in a slump at the plate for the last five years. But the hope is that Jose Lopez can repeat his season from last year at third, and problem solved. But listen to the names they've added: Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, and Casey Kotchman. This team has the potential to be one of the dominant teams in the American League again. People are talking about their one-two punch in the rotation (Lee and Felix Hernandez), but what about the one-two punch in the lineup!? Ichiro and Figgins! I like their lineup almost as much as the Rangers'. They were a great defensive team last year, and I think you can expect that again, as well. But the Mariners always tend to struggle for large parts of the season, no matter what their talent level is. I think they may win the division with 86-88 wins.

I believe the Rangers will finish second. I think they very well could win the west, but I fear the big injury. There are too many fragile players. We were all dreading an infield injury because I guess Joaquin Arias is the backup infielder? And guess what: Ian Kinsler is "likely" going to start the season on the DL. And if Elvis Andrus gets hurt at any time this season, we're in big trouble. The talent level on the field drops by about 25% is Josh Hamilton goes down, and you know it's just a matter of time. The weird thing is it now looks like the Rangers could survive an injury to Rich Harden or one of the other starters. CJ Wilson was awesome last night, and Matt Harrison pitched his way into the rotation, which is always good. Scott Feldman will be Scott Feldman, and I'm glad he's going to be the Opening Day starter. And we should have Tommy Hunter coming back before too long, and Derek Holland is lurking in OKC, just waiting for an opportunity to come back to Arlington. The other thing that scares me, though, is the back part of the lineup. Will Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia actually pull their weight this year? And if we have Arias back there as well, we will need everyone else to step up. It's incredibly difficult to win consistently with two spots in the order that are on-base-percentage black holes. See Texas Rangers, August/September 2009. So I see the Rangers finishing second with about 85 wins. I think they'll have a good season, but it's all held together by a thread right now.

The Angels are the Angels. You know they're going to be good, but they've just lost so many staples of Angels baseball. Vlad Guerrero, John Lackey, and Chone Figgins come to mind immediately. They might pull a winning record out of their hats, because let's face it: you can't ever really count out Mike Scioscia. But I just don't think they have got enough talent left over.

The A's look like they're lost. I saw one prediction that had the A's winning the west with 84 wins. I don't think they'll get anywhere close to that. They've got some good young players, but most of their lineup wouldn't start in Texas, Seattle, or Anaheim. I see them with a losing record this year again.

So there you have it. Jason K. Thompson's official pre-season prediction. Now all that's left is to say, "play ball!"