The Texas Rangers begin the 2010 season on Monday amid high expectations. Before they begin a journey that they hope ends with an American League West title, let's break down the schedule.
Texas starts and ends the season at home. In between, the Rangers head to New York and Boston on the opening road trip and have what could be a huge AL West swing through Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland in late September.
Here's a month-by-month look at what faces the Rangers:
Key home games: An emerging AL West contender in Seattle visits Rangers Ballpark in Arlington at the end of the first homestand, April 9-11. It's an early chance for the Rangers to set a tone against the month's only divisional opponent.
Key road games: The defending world champions host the Rangers for a weekend at the new Yankee Stadium April 16-18. Former Rangers Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez help lead a powerful lineup. The Rangers were 4-5 against the Yankees in 2009, including 3-3 in New York.
Scheduling notes: Opening Day isn't the only thing going on April 5 in sports: Tiger Woods is expected to hold a news conference at Augusta National before the Masters, and the NCAA men's basketball championship game is that night. ... The Rangers will get into Boston just before a gaggle of folks run the Boston Marathon on Patriots' Day (Texas faces Boston for three games starting the day after).
Players to watch: 2B Ian Kinsler (high right ankle sprain) may need some at-bats to get going, but April is traditionally a good month for him. Last year, he hit .322 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in a month that included going 6-for-6 in hitting for the cycle. ... RHP Rich Harden is 3-2 with a 2.40 ERA in eight April starts the last three years. Opponents have batted just .200 against him in that span.
Prediction: 12-11. The Rangers start the season a little banged up and with tough road games, but they manage to finish above .500.
Key road games: May starts with five games against AL West opponents with two in Seattle (the first game of the three-game series is the final day of April) and three in Oakland.
Scheduling notes: The Rangers have off days surrounding a two-game series in Kansas City in a bit of a scheduling quirk. ... Texas has a stretch where it plays 14 of 17 at home in May. ... Golf will also take center stage in the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the month with the HP Byron Nelson Championship and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial taking place on consecutive weekends at the end of May.
Players to watch: If the Rangers' rotation order holds, Scott Feldman could pitch three times on the road (Oakland, Toronto and Kansas City) in May. Feldman was a road warrior in 2009, tying the major league lead with 12 wins. ... Maybe LHP Darren Oliver gets a chance to face his former team when the Angels play two games in Texas in the middle of the month. ... C Jarrod Saltalamacchia was 4-for-11 with a homer against Kansas City last season.
Prediction: 16-11. The Rangers perform well against AL West competition (and do well on the road in Toronto and Kansas City) to put tougher a solid month.
Key home games: The club plays just two home series during the month, but a four-game stretch against Seattle on June 7-10 could be a big one in the division. It will be the last time the Rangers see the Mariners at home until the final week of the season.
Key road games: The club's National League swing goes through Milwaukee, Florida and Houston (June 11-20) in the middle of the month. The Rangers also face the Angels in Anaheim at the end of June.
Scheduling notes: Houston and Texas play six times this season, and all six are within nine days of each other in June. The Astros come to Arlington on June 25-27, a week after playing the Rangers in Houston. ... While the Rangers host Tampa Bay on June 4-6, Texas Motor Speedway will be hosting an IndyCar Series race. ... The NBA Finals start in early June: Could the Mavericks be involved?
Players to watch: OF Nelson Cruz enjoyed playing Houston in 2009. He was 8-for-23 with four homers. ... Michael Young has 15 at-bats against Milwaukee in the last three seasons and he has eight hits and five RBIs. ... RHP Rich Harden was 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in three starts against the Astros last season. They batted .275 against him.
Prediction: 16-11. The Rangers do enough on the road and take advantage of a favorable final homestand to get to 16 wins.
Key road games: Right after the break, Texas heads to Boston and Detroit for seven games (four against the Red Sox).
Scheduling notes: The All-Star Game is at Angel Stadium, meaning several Rangers could see a lot of that place in July. The Rangers start the month in Anaheim (final game of a three-game series) and also end it there with the first two games of a three-game series. ... The Rangers face the Angels seven times in July.
Players to watch: 3B Michael Young's best month the last three seasons has been July. He has a .375 batting average during the month in that span. ... OF Josh Hamilton hit .522 (12-for-23) against Cleveland and .333 (12-for-36) against the Angels. The Rangers have a combined 10 games against those teams in July.
Prediction: 14-13. Despite the long homestand, the Rangers have a tough road trip and see a lot of the Angels, which won't be easy.
Key home games: The Yankees and Red Sox come to town for a homestand, with New York playing two games (Aug. 10-11) and the Red Sox for three (Aug. 13-15).
Key road games: The month starts with the final game of a series in Anaheim, followed by three in Seattle and three in Oakland.
Scheduling notes: Texas has finished above .500 once in August in the last five seasons. ... The Rangers play games at 13 different starting times in August, ranging from a 12:35 game in Baltimore to a 9:10 affair in Seattle.
Players to watch: In 279 August at-bats the last three seasons, OF Josh Hamilton has a .290 batting average with 10 homers and 43 RBIs. ... OF David Murphy was 18-for-53 (.340) against the A's in 2009 with 13 RBIs (by far his highest RBI total against any team). ... RHP Neftali Feliz pitched four innings of relief combined against the Red Sox and Yankees last season and didn't allow a run on two hits with five strikeouts. He also got a save against Boston.
Prediction: 14-14. A tough road trip to start the month and then two of the best teams in baseball at home make it a difficult stretch. Rangers get some wins late in the month to get to .500.
Key home games: Seattle and Anaheim come to Arlington for the final seven games of the 2010 season.
Key road games: The Rangers travel to Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland on a 10-game trip that could decide the AL West.
Scheduling notes: The Rangers have three off days through Sept. 16 and then don't have any breaks as they play 17 straight AL West games to end the season. ... They face the Yankees at home the same weekend that college football really gets going.
Players to watch: 1B Chris Davis, who struggled to start the 2009 season, hit .290 with four homers and 16 RBIs in September last year. ... Fatigue may have played a part in the fact that some Rangers players had difficulties in September in 2009. RHP Tommy Hunter was 3-2 with a 6.55 ERA in September (17 strikeouts, 10 walks in 34 1/3 innings).
Prediction: 16-14. The Rangers hold their own against the AL West at the end of the month, finishing a game better than 2009.
88-74 (second in the AL West): The Rangers have the ability and talent to win a wide-open AL West, where 88 wins might be enough to claim the division title. Can they stay healthy? If they do, good things are on the horizon. I agree with manager Ron Washington: It's the Angels' division until someone proves otherwise. I think that team could be Texas, but I'll stick with picking the Angels to win the division for now -- barely.