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Rangers should be in wild-card race

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Sure, it's not an exact science. But predicting how the Texas Rangers will do month by month each season is a lot of fun.

Last year, I had the Rangers at 93-69. And that's exactly how they finished. There was, however, one major flaw in my thinking. I thought 93 wins would be enough to claim a third straight AL West title, and I figured the Rangers would get there thanks to a strong September. As we all know, that was wrong on both counts.

So let's try it again. Fresh off a longer offseason than the club had hoped, the Rangers come into the season with some questions and competing in a division that seems to get stronger each season.

Let's navigate the schedule and try to predict what may happen to the Rangers in 2013.

APRIL

Key home games: Instead of waiting until May to get one of the top rivalries in baseball going, the MLB schedule-makers gave fans an early treat: Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels come to town for the first home weekend of the season. That's April 5-7, with the final game a Sunday night tilt on ESPN. The Tampa Bay Rays, a postseason foe in 2010 and 2011, are in Arlington for three games April 8-10. The second AL West team to arrive in Texas is Seattle, which will face the Rangers in a weekend series April 19-21.

Key road games: At one point in the middle of April, the Rangers play 14 of 17 games on the road. It's a stretch that includes four in Seattle, an off day in Chicago before three games at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, and series in Anaheim and Minnesota.

Scheduling tidbits: Like last year, ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" is spending some quality time with the Rangers at the season's start. Texas opens the season in Houston on March 31 for the Astros' first game in the American League, and the following Sunday, the Rangers will play at home at 7:05 p.m. CT against the Angels.

The three-game set in Chicago will mark the first time the Rangers have played at Wrigley since 2002.

2012 rewind: The Rangers got off to a hot start in the first month last season, going 17-6 in April. They had one of the top offenses in the league, batting .292 with 124 runs scored in those 23 games, and the pitching staff sported a 2.81 ERA for its best month of the season.

Prediction: 15-12. The Rangers split the six games with the Angels, take advantage of the opening series with the Astros and survive a bunch of road games for an over-.500 start.

MAY

Key home games: The Boston Red Sox make their only journey to Arlington May 3-5 for a three-game set. The defending AL champs from Detroit come to town May 16-19 for a four-game series that weekend. The Diamondbacks are at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington for two games, on the 29th and 30th.

Key road games: Texas travels to Milwaukee for a two-game set May 7-8. It's the first trip to Milwaukee since 2010, when the Rangers won a three-game set from the Brewers, a club run by former Rangers general manager Doug Melvin. After visiting the Astros for three games, the Rangers return to a place that was not kind to them at the end of 2012. It was a three-game sweep in Oakland that dropped the Rangers into the AL wild-card game, which they lost to Baltimore. They'll make their first trip back to play the A's May 13-15.

Scheduling tidbits: There's actually a split doubleheader on the schedule and it's got nothing to do with weather. The Rangers and Diamondbacks will clash twice on Memorial Day, at 2:40 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. CT. The quirk means they'll get the next day off before playing the D-backs two games in a row at the end of the month. Texas plays 15 of its 28 games in May at home.

2012 rewind: The Rangers went 14-14 in the month, which began with a long road trip. It was in May that Hamilton hit four home runs against the Orioles at Camden Yards.

Prediction: 16-12. Texas deals with the split doubleheader in Arizona and wins series with Houston and Seattle for another solid month.

JUNE

Key home games: The Rangers get a nice 11-game stint at home, beginning June 10. That includes series with the Indians, Blue Jays and A's. The Royals are also in town at the beginning of the month, and finishes with a three-game set with the Cincinnati Reds in Arlington.

Key road games: The Rangers have a six-game road trip through Boston and Toronto the first full week of the month. They return to the site of the 2011 World Series with three in St. Louis June 21-23, and they make their only trip to Yankee Stadium on June 25-27.

Scheduling tidbits: The Rangers play more afternoon games than normal in June, with 10 games starting at 3:05 p.m. CT or earlier. All three Sunday home games are at 2:05 p.m. CT, and two of the Saturday games are in the afternoon. The Rangers have just two days off the entire month.

2012 rewind: Texas was 19-9 in June and hit .277 as a team. The Rangers managed to win a number of close games to pad their record for the month.

Prediction: 13-15. A tough schedule, even with a long homestand, will take a toll on the Rangers.

JULY

Key home games: A couple of big-time matchups highlight the end of the month. The Rangers play three games against the Angels and four against the Yankees. Interestingly, all are weekday games. Baltimore, the team that beat the Rangers in the AL wild-card game last season, also makes its only trip to Arlington right after the All-Star break.

Key road games: There's a stretch just before the All-Star break that could give the Rangers some nice momentum heading into the second half -- or could send them skidding to the break. Texas plays in Baltimore for four games, followed by three in Detroit. In the middle of 10 games at home, the Rangers travel to Cleveland near the end of the month.

Scheduling tidbits: Get used to some earlier games, thanks to the East Coast opponents. Texas has eight games at 6:05 p.m. or 6:15 p.m. CT, and two more at 12:05 p.m. CT. The All-Star Game is in New York this year. The Rangers always seem to be well represented, but manager Ron Washington won't be the skipper. That's something he did in 2011 and 2012 following the Rangers' World Series runs.

2012 rewind: It was not a good month for the Rangers. They were last in the AL in runs scored as the offense, which was so good in April and May, disappeared. They hit just .243 as a team, and the pitching wasn't much better, with a staff ERA of 4.28. The Rangers went 9-14.

Prediction: 14-12. That stretch before the break is tough and the month doesn't finish any easier, either, with the Yankees and Angels in town for seven of the final 10 games.

AUGUST

Key home games: The Rangers play just 10 of their 26 games in August at home. Perhaps that's a good thing, because it's typically the hottest month at Rangers Ballpark. Texas plays AL West foes Houston and Seattle at home, plus two games against Milwaukee and the first two of a three-game set with Minnesota.

Key road games: They all could be key at this point in the schedule, but Texas faces an AL West swing of Oakland, Los Angeles and Houston to start the month. The Rangers travel to Chicago to face the White Sox and get the Mariners at the end of the month.

Scheduling tidbits: The Rangers have every Thursday in August off. Strange. The good news: Three of them will be spent at home. The Rangers have just one Monday night game at home, against Houston on Aug. 19.

2012 rewind: Texas' up-and-down offense was up in August last year, scoring the most runs in the AL just a month after producing the least. The Rangers batted .288 as a team, and the pitching was solid, dropping the staff ERA under 4.00 for the month.

Prediction: 16-10. Seven games against Houston and six against Seattle help the Rangers to a good month. Plus, the off days should have them rested.

SEPTEMBER

Key home games: Ten of the Rangers' 14 home games in September come against AL West foes. That includes the final seven games of the 2013 season, against Houston and the Angels. That final four-game series with Los Angeles sets up to be very interesting, doesn't it? Pittsburgh manager (and former Rangers hitting coach) Clint Hurdle come to town earlier in the month.

Key road games: Before the final sprint through the AL West at home, the Rangers go to Tampa Bay for four and three in Kansas City.

Scheduling tidbits: The season ends on a Sunday (Sept. 29). Texas has just one weekday afternoon game at home, Sept. 11 vs. Pittsburgh. The Rangers play 10 of the final 17 at home, so it could be a great chance to try to close out a division title or playoff berth if they get the opportunity.

2012 rewind: It was a huge collapse at the end the season, and much of it was blamed on an offense that could not score runs consistently. The clutch hitting wasn't there, and the Rangers continued to get nothing out of the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Texas was 15-13 in September and 0-3 in October. And that 0-3 was the end of a dismal stretch that saw the A's come from five games back with nine to play to capture the AL West crown.

Prediction: 15-12. Most of the month is spent in the division and the Rangers are able to do enough to push toward the 90-win mark, though they'll fall just short of that. Seven home games to finish the season is a good thing for them.

OVERALL RECORD

89-73 (2nd in AL West, 2nd wild-card team)

Unlike previous seasons, the Rangers don't ever get on a long winning streak in the middle of the season to pad their totals, but they will be more consistent. Outside of June, I've got them above .500 the rest of the time.

But the streak of hitting at least 90 wins is over -- barely. And they get the second wild-card spot in the AL by a whisker. So yes, they'll be back in that elimination playoff game. And perhaps they can win it this time.