Let's face it: the A.L. West is up for grabs.
With Anaheim reeling from the losses of Vlad Guerrero and half their starting rotation due to injury and the tragic loss of Nick Adenhart, the perennial mainstay in the West has been weakened in the early weeks of the season.
The A's are still a young club trying to find their identity. The Mariners jumped out to an early lead and looked to be the best in the division until their recent 4-game skid.
Of course, this leaves us with the 2009 incarnation of the Texas Rangers, a team that's seen its share of ups and downs (mostly downs) since its last division title 10 years ago.
General Manager Jon Daniels has spent the last several years building the club and at least in the early going this year, his efforts seem to be paying off.
Without further ado, here's the Rangers' starters for '09 and why they just might surprise everyone come October.
1.) Ian Kinsler, 2B
At this time a year ago, Kinsler was putting up MVP-type numbers before falling victim to a sports hernia and missing the last part of the season. This year, he's back and has another shot at becoming the Rangers' first 30-30 player or better with the show he's put on halfway into the month of May.
A well-balanced player, Ian hits well at .325 and can turn on the jets as well, the owner of 8 stolen bases by May 8th.
Also to his credit is an impressive 6-hit cycle in Arlington on April 16th. Kinsler is easily comparable to reigning A.L. MVP Dustin Pedroia in terms of sheer skill.
2.) Michael Young, 3B
This 5-time All-Star is primarily a line drive hitter but has gotten an early start with 7 homers by the first week of May. Michael won the Gold Glove at shortstop last season but was actually moved over to 3rd in the spring by rookie phenom Elvis Andrus.
Errors have been made early on but he'll solidify his grip on the position as time goes on.
Having played most of last year with broken ring fingers on both hands, Young is playing healthy this year and it's easy to see with his production so far and will continue to be a nightmare with runners in scoring position.
One of the longest-tenured Rangers and face of the franchise will contribute greatly to this team on the field and in the clubhouse.
3.) Josh Hamilton CF
Last year's Silver Slugger winner looks to make his mark on baseball permanent this year. Hamilton had a quiet beginning to the season, made worse by a stint on the DL for a rib muscle strain.
After some adjustments to his swing were made in the off-season, Hamilton's scrapped the changes and gone back to the stance that helped him bring in 130 RBIs in '08.
Regardless, he'll be back soon enough and bat in the 3-spot for the Rangers with the opportunity to raise ERA's all across the league.
4.) Hank Blalock, DH
Like the rest of the team's 2008 campaign, Blalock's was injury-plagued. His longtime presence in the Rangers' clubhouse will benefit the team. Batting cleanup, Blalock will have to cut down on his high number of strikeouts and stay healthy if he wishes to stay with the club the whole way.
He's in the final year of his contract and his production will determine where Blalock will be in 2010.
5.) Marlon Byrd, OF
Entering the heart of the lineup, Marlon Byrd will continue to quietly produce. He's quite the right-handed hitter, batting .323 with 12 doubles to his name so far in 2009.
Byrd is splitting time in the outfield with David Murphy, Josh Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz in addition to Andruw Jones, who's coming of the bench this year. As a result, he'll see most of the action but have to share with Murphy most of the time.
6.) Nelson Cruz, RF
Cruz's inconsistency last year led many to wonder about his production at the plate coming into this year. His response? 7 home runs, 20 RBIs and a .282 average. Nelly Cruz's critics have been silenced for now, but he'll have to keep it up through the summer.
That shouldn't be hard at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, notorious for giving up the long ball. Cruz has right field all to himself, it seems, and has played the position well. Look for him to be the emerging offensive power on the team this year.
7.) Chris Davis, 1B
The youthful 1st baseman is seeing something of a sophomore slump in 2009. Ranger fans will cringe at his 47 strikeouts in 99 at-bats, and hope for numbers like he put up towards the end of last season, when he had 17 homers, 84 hits, and 51 RBI in just 80 games.
Defensively, he's as flexible as a 23 year-old corner infielder should be; aided by his size (6'4", 235 lbs.), Texas has a reliable everyday player on their hands.
8.) Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Finally, the Mark Teixeira trade begins to pay dividends for the Rangers. After a sluggish 2008, Salty's been given the starter's job at catcher after the departure of Gerald Laird, but will occasionally sit for young Taylor Teagarden to get playing time.
He's much improved behind the plate, acting as a backstop for the Rangers' improved staff and at bat this switch-hitter is holding his own.
After a slow start, Saltalamacchia's turned it on, going 2-for-4 with a grand slam in one start at Seattle this week. He's capable of this and much more going into the future.
9.) Elvis Andrus, SS
One of the heralded prospects from the Teixeira deal that Texas plans to build on. Andrus is lauded for his defensive ability and has proved himself a playmaker so far. He's also shown his age (20) through his tendency to commit throwing errors, but young shortstops will do that from time to time.
Backed up by childhood hero and fellow Venezuelan Omar Vizquel, I'm not too worried about Elvis' development.
Andrus' prowess at the plate was completely understated, however. He's homered and been a frequent extra-base presence while batting second during Hamilton's stint on the DL. This kid is the real deal.
The combination of grizzled MLB veterans and young emerging talent should aid the Rangers towards their stated goal of contending for a playoff spot in 2010. Fielding one of the most impressive lineups in the American League, the Rangers added pitching coach Mike Maddux to shape up one of the worst staffs in baseball.
His presence in the bullpen has been felt thus far, with pitchers going deeper into games and pounding the strike zone.
Provided Texas stays healthy and performs better after the break than Rangers teams in recent years, the club may just find itself in a position to take ownership of a severely weakened A.L. West late in the year.
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