SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After six weeks of spring training and a busy -- and shorter -- offseason, the Texas Rangers are finally ready to start the season.
So as 2011 begins, let's look into our crystal ball and predict how the season might play out, looking at each month. We'll highlight key games, players to watch and give you a best guess as to how the team does each month.
Please note that you may not want to wager anything on these picks. We figured the Rangers would have 88 wins and finish second -- barely -- to the Angels in 2010. Of course, we now know the Rangers won 90 games and captured the division, ending up in the World Series. Will they do it again? Join us as we go through each month.
Key home games: The Boston Red Sox open the season in Arlington and the Rangers also welcome two AL West foes in the first three weeks of the season -- Seattle plays three April 4-6 and the Angels face Texas on April 18-20.
Key road games: A visit to Detroit and to Yankee Stadium is scheduled for the second full week of the season. The Rangers finish the month in Oakland in their first road AL West trip.
Scheduling notes: The Rangers-Yankees game on April 17 is on ESPN at 7:05 p.m. CT. ... The Final Four is in Houston during the Rangers' opening homestand. In fact, they play Seattle the same night as the championship game. ...Texas will be in Baltimore while the NASCAR community is at Texas Motor Speedway and The Masters is going on in Augusta, Ga. ...The Mavericks will be in the NBA playoffs. Will the Stars be playing in the postseason as well?
Players to watch: Ian Kinsler didn't play in April in 2010, but historically it's a good month for him. He's hit .318 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs in his career in that month. ...C.J. Wilson was brilliant in April last season, going 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in four starts. He had a complete game as well.
2010 recap: The Rangers went 11-12 after getting off to a slow start. That included a rough road trip through New York and Boston in which the club went 1-5.
Prediction: 13-14. The Rangers begin the season with bullpen questions and youngsters thrust into starting roles. It may take time to find a rhythm.
Key home games: The Yankees come to town May 6-8 and AL West foes Oakland and the Angels are also in Arlington for three-game series as part of a nine-game homestand.
Key road games: A trip to Philadelphia in interleague play is slated for May 20-22. Could the Rangers see Cliff Lee in that series? They'll also finish the month in Tampa Bay, where they'll return for the first time since Game 5 of the ALDS.
Scheduling notes: The Rangers have two off days and both come at home and on Thursdays (May 12 and 26). ... Golf returns to Dallas-Fort Worth for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial (May 19-22) and the HP Byron Nelson Championship (May 26-29). The Rangers are off during the first round of the Nelson, so maybe a few of them can catch some of the action. ...Texas plays games at 12 different starting times in May.
Players to watch: Elvis Andrus hit .340 in May last year with a .397 on-base percentage and six RBIs. ... Mike Napoli's best career month is May, when he sports a .284 average with 21 homers and 59 RBIs. ... May was a solid month for Neftali Feliz in 2010. He had a 0.71 ERA, was 9-for-10 on save chances and opponents hit .119 against him.
2010 recap: Texas was 15-12, including sweeping a four-game series with Kansas City and two-game series with the Angels and Orioles.
Prediction: 17-12. Rangers take advantage of long home stretches and five games against Kansas City (which will be better but is still using young players with room to grow) to post a good May.
Key home games: The Rangers play only nine games in Arlington the whole month. Those include Detroit, Houston and the Mets.
Key road games: A 10-game trip in 11 days highlights the month. Texas travels to Minnesota for four, the Yankees for three and the Braves for three. Not easy.
Scheduling notes: The Rangers play at home only one weekend -- June 24-26 against the Mets. ...They have three off days, including one before and one after the Mets series. ... The IndyCar Series comes to TMS two weeks after the Indy 500 for two races on the same day (June 11), while the Rangers are in Minnesota.
Players to watch: Josh Hamilton blitzed the month of June last year. He eliminated his toe tap in Chicago at the beginning of the month and went on to hit .454 with nine homers and 31 RBIs. ... Julio Borbon batted .356 in June after a slow start. ... Colby Lewis was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA in five June starts in 2010. ... Darren Oliver allowed one run on three hits (12 strikeouts, two walks) in 9 1/3 innings in June last season.
2010 recap: June was what vaulted the Rangers into first place in the AL West, where they stayed for the rest of the season. Texas was 21-6 in the month, including 11 straight wins at one point. The Rangers took advantage of a favorable interleague schedule and also pulled out some close wins.
Prediction: 14-13. It's tough to expect a repeat of last year's June when the Rangers play two-thirds of their games on the road. Key wins in Cleveland and against the Astros keep them right around that .500 mark for the month.
Key home games: Oakland comes to Arlington for three games July 8-10 and the Rangers welcome Minnesota to town near the end of the month. Texas plays 16 games at home after being out of town for most of June.
Key road games: After the All-Star break, Texas heads to Seattle and Anaheim for seven games. They also face Toronto in Canada at the end of the month.
Scheduling notes: Florida is in Arlington to start the month (July 1-3), the third NL team to visit Arlington in a two-week span. ... Texas has an off day between road series with Seattle and Anaheim. ... The club has only one home afternoon game -- a 2:05 p.m. Sunday start against Oakland on July 10 right before the All-Star break.
Players to watch: One of Nelson Cruz's best months has been July. He has a .328 career average with 14 homers and 36 RBIs. ... Yorvit Torrealba hit .417 in 48 at-bats in July last year. ... Darren O'Day didn't allow a run in 11 1/3 innings in the month last year.
2010 recap: The Rangers were 14-13. They were swept in a four-game series at home by Baltimore (including late collapses and Cliff Lee's debut) before the All-Star break, but took three of four after the break in Boston.
Prediction: 16-10. Texas has 16 of its 26 games at home and takes advantage of it. The club heads into August either on top or near the top of the AL West.
Key home games: The biggest stretch is a 10-game homestand -- nine of which are played in August to finish off the month -- against Boston, the Angels and Tampa Bay.
Key road games: A 10-game trip in the middle of the month starts in Oakland and continues in Anaheim against the Angels before finishing up against the White Sox.
Scheduling notes: The 10-game homestand is tied for the longest of the season (with a 10-game homestand in April). ... Will the Cowboys have training camp during the month? If not, it gives Rangers chance to claim even more attention in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Players to watch: David Murphy has put together solid second halves in his career. He hits .291 and has 24 homers and 105 RBIs after the All-Star break in his career. Murphy batted .331 in August and September in 2010. ... Michael Young is hitting .319 against Detroit in 75 games. The Rangers start the month with the Tigers, the final three games of nine games with them in 2011.
2010 recap: A traditionally poor month for Texas, the Rangers went 13-15, yet saw their lead in the AL West grow by a half-game when the month ended.
Prediction: 13-15. A long, tough road trip and home games against good teams such as Boston (4-game series) and the Angels make this a difficult month.
Key home games: As the season winds down, the Rangers welcome division opponents Oakland and Seattle to town. They also face Cleveland for three.
Key road games: Texas must go to Boston and Tampa Bay early in the month and then nine of the final 12 games are on the road against AL West opponents -- Seattle, Oakland and the Angels.
Scheduling notes: It's the start of college football season, but will it also be another pennant-chasing month for the Rangers? ... Three off days in September, including one after the Boston-Tampa Bay road trip and another between Seattle and Oakland on the road. ...The season ends in Anaheim.
Players to watch: Nelson Cruz has hit .296 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs in Septembers past. He's been called up a few times, so he has more at-bats in September than any other month. ... David Murphy hit .355 in September with 17 RBIs. ... Adrian Beltre hit .313 in September for the Red Sox in 2010. He also hit .359 last season against Tampa Bay, a team the Rangers face four times in September.
2010 recap: Texas went 15-12, clinching the AL West in Oakland with more than a week left in the season.
Prediction: 15-10. The Rangers will get it done against the AL West, a key for their hopes of winning the division again.
88-74 (first in AL West): This was the same prediction I made for the Rangers in 2010, when I was two wins off.
I believe the team that heads into the 2011 season is better than the one that started the 2010 campaign. But I think this team will have a tough time duplicating last year's win total because of a tougher interleague schedule.
There's been a lot made of the struggles of the bullpen this spring and question marks in the rotation. But I think spring training results are overrated (as last year showed). This lineup remains the best in the AL West and if the pitching can keep the team in games, they'll find a way to get a big hit when they need it (much like last year).
This division won't be decided until the final weekend and the key for the Rangers is staying healthy. Oakland is improved and the Angels remain a force. The AL West teams will beat up on each other, but the Rangers will win the key games down the stretch against those divisional foes and will return to the playoffs.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.