Being the weakest team in baseball's toughest division isn't easy, but the unbalanced schedule makes the Rangers' lives even harder. Thanks to 58 games against AL West rivals Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle, playoff contenders all, the Rangers' 2003 opponents averaged an 85-77 record (.526 winning percentage) last season, the best in baseball, and allowed a major-league-low 4.6 runs per game. No club plays more games against plus-.500 teams than Texas (92).
The Rangers' schedule is also front-loaded: They play their first 19 games against divisional foes, followed by the Red Sox and the Yankees, and don't play a sub-500 team until April 29 in Toronto. "It'll be a great test for us," says shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
But with that slate, Texas, 2-4 at week's end, risks duplicating last April's quick tumble from contention: After playing its first 18 games against the division, Texas was 5-13 on April 21, 9� games out of first place.
"It's a power start, but that's O.K." general manager John Hart says. "I talked to [manager Buck Showalter] about the division when we hired him, and he said, 'John, I'm all over being in this division. Let's go for it.' "
"If we can get through the first month with our head above water," says team owner Tom Hicks, "we're going to have a great season."
—Daniel G. Habib
Greg Maddux on the Ropes
A Bad Start for a Great Starter
For me first time in his career Greg Maddux lost his first two starts of the season, but most startling was that he was knocked around by the Expos and the Marlins. In nine innings combined the four-time NL Cy Young winner surrendered 11 earned runs and 17 hits. Maddux, who's coming off a 16-win season in which his innings pitched (199?) and strikeouts (118) were the lowest since his first full major league season, in 1987, is not a traditionally slow starter. In fact his 2.67 April ERA entering this season was the lowest for any month in his career.
Over the past 10 years no player has pitched more innings than Maddux (2,317). Is he wearing down? "I don't think so," says an NL advance scout. "I think it's just a slow start. He's healthy. His stuff is fine, his arm is working well, there are no red flags. He still has the quickness in his arm that's the key for him. I wouldn't be worried. Sooner or later all the innings he's pitched might catch up to him, but Greg Maddux is never going to forget how to pitch."
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