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Round I To The Rangers - But Round II To The A's

There are many parts that define a baseball season, and one of the them is "getting out of the gate fast." While the A's stumbled, recovered, and landed at .500, the Rangers started out 9-1 and currently hold a 3-game lead on Oakland after less than two weeks.

And make no mistake about it, while 12 out of 162 games is but a sliver of a long season, who wins the "get out of the gate fast" sprint is no trifling matter. If the A's and Rangers play even the rest of the way, Texas will win the West. There are no mulligans in baseball.

But baseball isn't just about "how you start," "how you finish," and "how you handle the grind in the middle. There are many other parts to consider that help define the 162-game season in its totality.

One of them is health, and Josh Hamilton's injury is the first major bump in the road for either team. It's a big bump, considering that Hamilton is the reigning league MVP and the most physically gifted player either team has had in a long time. He's special, and he's also out for two months.

What a concept that the A's would not be the team cursed by the injury bug, but so far their biggest setback has also been their best news -- Andrew Bailey is out for more like a month than like 12-18 months, and if you saw Bailey jump off the mound clutching his elbow in March, Bailey's current status leaves you feeling blessed, not cursed, by the injury Gods.

What other parts are there to a season? There's depth, which is tied into injury but relates not to those lost but rather to those left pedaling the bike. Oakland might win that round, thanks to Ryan Sweeney, Conor Jackson, Andy LaRoche, Adam Rosales, Tyson Ross, and several pitchers we haven't yet seen, e.g., Joey Devine, Rich Harden, Josh Outman.

Every team's depth will be tested in the marathon that is a 6-month baseball season. Already the Rangers have had to go to starting CFer #2 while the A's have had to move every reliever up a spot in the bullpen to cover for Andrew Bailey. And it's just the beginning.

There's also head-to-head matchups, where the two-game swing makes each head-to-head matchup feel twice as important as other games. The season series between Oakland and Texas could end 10-9. If it doesn't, then someone is going to pick up at least 3 games in the standings in the season series. That's enough to fully bridge the current gap, or enough to double it.

Often, there's an emerging player who wasn't even on the team at the outset -- in 2010 that group included Buster Posey, Trevor Cahill, and by trade Cliff Lee. It's hard enough to predict a team's final record on paper when you know who the players are going to be; in reality the players who take the field are collectively a very different bunch from the one you analyzed on paper in March.

So Texas stormed out of the gate like Secretariat on crack, and built an early 3-game lead that is nothing to sneeze at. Then Josh Hamilton got some bad advice from an aggressive base coach -- or maybe there's a reason you don't go headfirst into home plate -- and the landscape of the AL West changed again in a split second.

But most of the key parts are still yet to come: The season series, the grind in the middle when everyone's tired, the next injury, the newcomer, who "sprints to the finish line." There is still very little we know about how the 2011 season will play out. What we do know is only that Texas won Round I and the A's have taken Round II and that no knockout punches have been delivered in either direction. Not even close.