The Rangers are generally favored to defend their American League West championship, but that will be a lot easier if C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis repeat their 2010 performances, and if Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz can spend most of the season in the lineup together.
Actually, the Texas Rangers' season figures to hinge upon two questions.
We'll dispense with one quickly, and spend a bit more time on the other ...
Like most clubs, the Rangers have a great deal of play in their pitching rotation. Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson pitched better last season than they'd ever pitched before (in the majors, anyway). Were they for real? Considering they're easily the club's two best starters, a significant dropoff from that pair would probably doom the Rangers to second place. And what about the others? Matt Harrison and Derek Holland are relatively untested, and Tommy Hunter's opening this season on the disabled list (which gives him a three-season streak).
Essentially this same rotation was plenty good enough last season; Cliff Lee won only four games during his stint with the club. So there's no reason to think they can't do it again this season. But there is at least some room for mild skepticism, given the lack of a strong collective track record.
They'll probably do well enough, though. There's not much room for greatness, but plenty for the requisite goodness.
The Rangers' corner outfielders are another story entirely. Between left fielder Josh Hamilton and right fielder Nelson Cruz, Texas might have two of the five or six best hitters in the American League.
The trick is keeping them in the lineup.
In 2009, Cruz missed time with various injuries, most notably a sprained ankle that cost him 16 games. In 2010, he spent three separate stints on the Disabled List, each time with a pesky left-thigh injury. Can you fix a left thigh between October and spring training? We'll find out this summer. But while Cruz might never hit again like he hit in '10, it'll be interesting to see what he might do in 150 games rather than the 108 he managed last year.
Much the same might be said about Josh Hamilton. Granted, he did win (and probably deserve) the MVP Award last year. But he played in only 133 games ... and in only 89 the year before that. Hamilton's injury log over the last four seasons looks like some mad doctor's fevered dream ...
Trunk fracture? Yeah, trunk fracture. He busted his ribs running into a fence.
Hamilton's supposedly a full-time left fielder now, with the idea that he won't be running into fences as often as he did whilst playing center field. We'll see. Players who have often been injured tend to keep getting injured.
Since reaching the majors in 2007, Hamilton has averaged 117 games per season. You know about Nelson Cruz. The latter is 30 years old; the former turns 30 in May. If these two 30-year-olds can combine for at least 280 games, the Rangers may well score enough runs to balance whatever deficiencies might arise among the pitchers.
But if this is one of those years when they can't stay in the lineup -- like Cruz's 2010 or Hamilton's 2009 -- the Rangers may well lose too many 5-4 and 4-3 decisions.