The Rangers proved last year, in a division supposedly stacked with pitching, that you don't need a staff full of studs to compete. Texas won 89 games in the always-entertaining American League West, finished just three games behind the Anaheim Angels (or whatever their name is now) and did it using -- get this -- 17 different starters. Fifteen different Joes started at least three games.
Clearly, the West isn't the hotbed of pitching it once was. The Big Three in Oakland, which pushed the A's to four straight playoff appearances, have been whittled to one with the trades of Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder (only Barry Zito remains). Bartolo Colon and the Angels still have some proving to do (their starting rotation's 4.70 ERA last season was worst among AL playoff teams). Seattle lost 99 games, so you know the Mariners weren't pitching all that well.
And then there are the Rangers, who defied all odds in '04 and go into this season with a similar no-name staff. And, strangely, with similarly high expectations.
The reason the Rangers can compete in what promises to be the tightest division in the game is their hitting. In any park, a lineup with Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Mench, Michael Young, Laynce Nix and Alfonso Soriano can rake. At the ballpark formerly known as the Ballpark in Arlington (it's now Ameriquest Field in Arlington), they not only rake, but edge and blow, too.
Only the Red Sox had more extra-base hits than the Rangers last season. When you subtract a team's batting average from its slugging percentage -- a stat called isolated power which shows, theoretically at least, the pure power of a team -- no team in baseball had a higher mark than the Rangers' .191.
Of course, other teams in this division can score, too. The Angels have the reigning MVP in the incomparable Vladimir Guerrero, and they've upgraded with center fielder Steve Finley and shortstop Orlando Cabrera. The Mariners couldn't hit a lick last season, so they signed home run champion Adrian Beltre from the Dodgers and powerful Richie Sexson from the Diamondbacks. Oakland is sticking to its roots with high output guys like Mark Kotsay, Eric Byrnes, Eric Chavez and Erubiel Durazo, and it traded for Jason Kendall, whose .399 on-base percentage led all National League catchers last season.
No, pitching's definitely not the strongpoint in the West anymore, but that doesn't mean the West can't be every bit as wild as ever.
Click below for the rest of John Donovan's AL West Preview.