Three Innings to Opening Day: The Competition

We're getting close to Opening Day and that means it is time to focus in on nine of the stories worth following this Rangers season. We'll run them down one a day between now and April 6th, with the Rangers' compeition up for discussion in the seventh inning.

The Angels picked a heckuva year to go out and spend the GDP of Mozambique on new players.

Life in the American League West got a lot more difficult this offseason when the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to flesh out a roster that was a little too thin to seriously contend for the divisional crown. Unless you've just returned to baseball after spending the last decade in a Tunisian backwater, there's not much reason to analyze the Pujols move because you know what he means to a team.

The Wilson move is a bit more interesting. The Rangers seemed not to blink an eye about the prospect of losing Wilson, but you wonder if they might not have been putting on a brave face once he signed with a divisional rival. Wilson might not be ideal as the frontman of a rotation, but he looks pretty good as the fourth part of a group that also includes Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. 

Are those two moves enough to erase a 10-game gap in the standings? A lot will have to do with how well the Rangers' plan to replace Wilson works out, but it certainly seems doable for the Angels, who could also get Kendrys Morales back after two years of injuries.

In past years, not winning the division might not be such a big deal for the Rangers. Yes, they'd need to beat out one of the East teams for the Wild Card but their chances of getting to the World Series wouldn't be seriously compromised thanks to a system that didn't do much to reward division titlists.

This year, though, the Wild Card gets you a one-game playoff against a second Wild Card team for the right to advance to a five-game series with a division champ. That's a significant difference in a sport that sees even the best teams lose 60-70 times a year because of a bad day on the mound, quiet bats or an ill-timed error.

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Making the playoffs got easier but winning the division is more important and, thanks to the Angels, more difficult than in past years. The health issues in the lineup, the rotation questions and Ron Washington's often confusing managerial style (assuming that he's trying to win) are all reasons to make you wonder about the Rangers outlasting the Angels over the full 162 game slate.

The change in the playoff rules is a big plus for baseball's regular season, but it's fraught with danger for teams in the mix like the Rangers.

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