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Rangers Opening Day outlook

Rangers Opening Day outlook

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There is simply no way to predict what will happen with the Rangers this season. Texas has more unknown variables than any other season in its 37-year history.

From top to bottom, the roster is filled with players who have been successful at the Major League level, but of late have been dealing with injuries and other physical issues. The only safe bet in this bunch is that Michael Young will hit .300 or better and finish with over 200 hits. He has done so for five straight years.

Take the Rangers' top three starters: Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Jason Jennings. They were 40-35 with a 4.26 ERA in 627 innings in 2006, but 18-33 with a 5.59 ERA in 397 innings in 2007.

If the Rangers get the 2006 version, they have a chance. If all three slip back to their 2007 level, Texas is in deep trouble.

It's that way all throughout the Rangers' roster. They have many talented players with serious question marks, which makes it difficult to project exactly what they are going to do this year.

Manager Ron Washington remains undaunted.

"If we pitch and play defense, I'll take my chances with this team every night," he said.

Calling card
Watch out for Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton. They both looked good in the Cactus League and appear ready for breakout seasons. If that happens -- and Hank Blalock is back to full strength -- then the Rangers could once again be an offensive powerhouse. Young remains one of the best hitters in the game.

Achilles' Heel

Hamilton

Projected starting lineup
1. 2B Ian Kinsler
2. SS Michael Young
3. CF Josh Hamilton
4. 3B Hank Blalock
5. DH Milton Bradley
6. LF David Murphy
7. RF Marlon Byrd
8. C Gerald Laird
9. 1B Ben Broussard
Projected rotation
1. RHP Kevin Millwood
2. RHP Vicente Padilla
3. RHP Jason Jennings
4. LHP Kason Gabbard
5. RHP Luis Mendoza
Projected bullpen
Closer: LHP C.J. Wilson
Setup: RHP Kazuo Fukumori
Setup: LHP Eddie Guardado
Middle: RHP Joaquin Benoit
Middle: RHP Josh Rupe
Long: RHP Jamey Wright

The Rangers have many players with serious health issues. Jennings, Hank Blalock, Eddie Guardado, Milton Bradley and Kazuo Fukumori missed significant time last year because of surgery. Millwood, Padilla, Hamilton and Kinsler also spent time on the disabled list. The Rangers have taken some risks with some of the players they've acquired.

You'll know they're rollin' if ...
If Millwood, Padilla and Jennings can carry the front of the rotation with 6-7 solid innings per night, the Rangers will succeed. The Rangers need solid starting pitching to be in contention and they need C.J. Wilson as the closer to lead a lights-out bullpen.

You'll know they're in trouble if ...
If the starting pitching stumbles, the Rangers will have problems. Their offense could be good -- especially if Hamilton breaks out -- but it's not good enough to carry weak pitching.

Testing, testing
The Rangers' second road trip takes them to Toronto, Boston and Detroit. That includes four games each with the Red Sox and the Tigers, two teams that right now look to be the best in the American League. That will be a huge early test for the Rangers.

Interleague Play
The Rangers play three serious contenders from the National League East in the Mets, Braves and Phillies. They also play in Washington D.C. for the first time since they moved to Texas after the 1971 season. The Rangers' strength of Interleague schedule, as always, depends much on the Astros. They play home-and-home series, and the Rangers have won the Silver Boot two of the past three years.

The Bottom Line
The subject gets boring and monotonous. It was talked about daily in Spring Training to an almost ridiculous degree. The Rangers need to stay healthy. No kidding, but that's it. If they do across the board, then they have a chance. But there are a high number of players who fit in that category, and that could be unusually risky for a team wanting to contend.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }
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