The Texas Rangers came up short in the World Series for a second straight year in 2011, but there's good reason to believe they may get another chance this fall.
The Rangers open the season at home Friday against the Chicago White Sox, who have a new manager in Robin Ventura.
After losing in five games to San Francisco in the 2010 World Series, Texas came even closer to its first title last year. The Rangers were twice within a strike of clinching a championship in Game 6, but St. Louis rallied and then won Game 7.
While Texas will have a lot of competition, especially from Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West, the Rangers believe they can make another deep run this October.
"We did everything we needed (last year) except for one pitch really," Friday's scheduled starter Colby Lewis said. "We've got the same group of core guys back. The opportunity is there for us to do it again."
The Rangers had one of the deepest offenses in the majors last season, finishing third in runs and first in batting average (.283). Looking to keep the core of the lineup together, Texas signed slugging outfielder and ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz, catcher Mike Napoli and shortstop Elvis Andrus to new deals.
But while his teammates were getting locked up, Josh Hamilton and the Rangers have put off talks for a new contract after he confirmed a relapse with alcohol in February.
Hamilton, who has struggled with substance abuse problems in the past, hit .298 with 25 home runs in an injury-interrupted 2011 season, playing hurt throughout the playoffs before having sports hernia surgery in November.
Set to become a free agent at the end of the year, Hamilton wants to put the distractions behind him.
"I'll be where I'm supposed to be," Hamilton told the Rangers' official website. "I'll just keep doing what I've always done: playing the best I can and help my team win. That's my focus right now."
The Rangers' biggest move of the offseason was the signing of Yu Darvish. The 25-year-old right-hander was 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA the past seven seasons in Japan's Pacific League.
Texas committed more than $107 million to get the 6-foot-5 Darvish, who is scheduled to start Monday against Seattle.
Lewis will be making his first opening day start, looking to take more of a leadership role with ace C.J. Wilson gone. Lewis went 14-10 with a 4.40 ERA last season.
"For me, I just look at it as just another start," Lewis said. "I just take all the things I've done to prepare for it and just try to do what I'm good at doing. You don't try to go outside yourself, that's when you get into trouble."
The right-hander is 2-3 with a 5.93 ERA in eight appearances - six starts - against the White Sox, although he pitched a five-hit shutout versus Chicago last season.
While the Rangers seem poised to be one of the top teams in the AL again, the White Sox are trying to avoid describing this season as a rebuilding one.
Despite an increased payroll in 2011, they struggled and finished 79-83 while missing the playoffs for a third straight year.
Now, manager Ozzie Guillen is gone, and ace Mark Buehrle followed him to Miami. The White Sox also traded closer Sergio Santos and slugger Carlos Quentin.
Chicago may not seem equipped to compete with a loaded Detroit team in the AL Central, but Ventura doesn't think expectations have to be lowered on the South Side.
"We still have the same goals," Ventura said. "We're here to win games and we've got to figure out a way to do that. We're not going to concede anything to anybody."
Ventura, whose 16 seasons as a player in the majors included 10 with the White Sox, was Chicago's surprising hire after Guillen's departure. He has no managerial experience.
He has a tough task in front of him, particularly getting Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn back on track after the trio put up disappointing numbers in 2011.
Dunn hit .159 with just 11 homers and 42 RBIs while striking out a club-record 177 times in his first season of a four-year, $56 million deal. He was a handful of plate appearances shy of qualifying for the lowest batting average in modern major league history for a non-pitcher.
"You couldn't go anywhere without people like, 'What happened? What's wrong?' Basically looking for me to make an excuse or something," Dunn said. "I didn't have one. Once the offseason went by, all I can say is it's over and I can't wait for the season to start."
The offseason was a lucrative one for Friday's starter John Danks. The Texas native signed a $65 million, five-year deal after going 8-12 with a 4.33 ERA last season.
"If anything, he is Buehrle by osmosis from hanging out with him so much. We have a lot of confidence in John," utilityman Brent Lillibridge told the White Sox's official website.
Danks is 1-4 with a 3.81 ERA in eight starts against the Rangers, losing his last three in Arlington.
The Rangers and White Sox split their eight meetings last season.