Rangers' pitching will win them West

ARLINGTON, Texas -- David Murphy shook his head vigorously side-to-side as soon as he heard the question.

No, the Texas Rangers didn't become arrogant last season. No, they didn't take winning for granted.

Ron Washington said folks need to quit trying to figure out why the Rangers had one of the biggest collapses in Major League Baseball history, blowing a five-game lead with nine to play last September.

They lost, he said, when they needed to win.

If only it were that simple.

The fallout: After winning 279 games over the past three seasons -- only the Evil Empire has won more -- and making the playoffs three straight seasons and playing in consecutive World Series, the Rangers have the same number of titles they had when this terrific run began.

Last season's collapse represented the end of an era now that Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli are gone. The Rangers' best player. Their leader. And a gritty clubhouse favorite.

Texas must win with a different style this year because the offense won't be as potent with Hamilton and Napoli plying their trade in Los Angeles and Boston, respectively.

For the first time in franchise history, the Rangers must win a division with pitching, defense and a revamped running game as the key components.

Stop laughing. They're capable.

The Rangers will win the American League West because general manager Jon Daniels has the best rotation he's ever had to start a season.

And if the rotation's top four starters pitch to their potential, they'll combine to win 65 games.

Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando have each been to the All-Star game, and we've seen Derek Holland's ability to dominate opponents numerous times. He just hasn't done it consistently.

At 26, Holland has started 108 games and thrown 569 innings. If he's going to develop into a consistent quality starter, this is the year.

In 2012, Harrison, Darvish, Holland and Scott Feldman went 52-38 in 109 starts. In 2011, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Harrison and Holland went 60-31 in 128 starts. And in 2010, Wilson, Lewis, Feldman and Tommy Hunter went 47-36 in 109 starts.

Yes, the Rangers had Cliff Lee in 2010, but they were 50-37 with a 4 1/2-game lead when he arrived. Lee went 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 starts before finding his rhythm in the playoffs.

Don't tell me this rotation, as currently composed, isn't better than the two rotations that went to the World Series.

Now, that doesn't mean the Rangers are going to the World Series, but it does mean their rotation gives them an opportunity to win most nights.

The defense should also be improved. Shortstop Elvis Andrus and third baseman Adrian Beltre form one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball, and Ian Kinsler is a terrific defensive second baseman when he's focused.

First baseman Mitch Moreland should give the Rangers one of the AL's best defensive infields because he'll save runs with his defense. Ultimate zone rating is the best way to judge a player's defensive ability, according to the sabermetric baseball community. All you need to know is Moreland had a positive rating in 739 innings at first base, while Young and Napoli each had a negative rating in a combined 570 and two-thirds innings.

The Rangers will also be zooming around the bases, going from first to third on singles and swiping second at every opportunity in their never-ending quest to put pressure on the defense. Kinsler, Andrus, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin give the Rangers the speed to be disruptive on the bases.

Last year, the Rangers went first to third 84 times, two below the league average, while finishing fifth in bases taken on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, etc., with 86. In 2011, they were second in the AL going first to third (95 times) and they took 157 bases.

Teams took away their running game last season and the Rangers became complacent, waiting for home runs. They don't have the lineup to do that this season.

The Angels have the better lineup and the Athletics have the better rotation, but the Rangers have the better team.