We're not picked by many to rise to the top of our division, but I think we're well-balanced with a lot of talent. I think this is the best team we've had here in a while. So I'm really excited about our season. The ingredients are here and now it's time to produce on the baseball field.

I think we have a lot of hitting and a lot of pitching. We have always seemed to hit the ball well. We have only gotten better from the offensive standpoint when you talk about adding guys like Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton and Frank Catalanotto. Kenny and Cat will be great as table-setters before our studs come up. I think our lineup, one through nine, is real solid.

When you look at our rotation, I'm pretty impressed with two young pitchers that we have. Brandon McCarthy came over this winter from the White Sox and Robinson Tejada came up for us last year and secured a spot. We know what we're going to get from Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. They battle and win games for us. Our fifth starter, Jamey Wright, pitched real well in camp.

Our bullpen, meanwhile, has a lot of talent. It's going to be exciting to see them work. C.J. Wilson has some experience now, as does Scott Feldman. Kameron Loe has battled back and made the team, and when you combine those guys with Joaquin Benoit, that's a pretty good setup group.

At the end of the bullpen we have Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne. We have high hopes for Gagne's return from the DL. I caught him in Spring Training and his stuff is electric.

When you look at our competition in the AL West, you can't say enough about the Angels. They have really good pitching and a good club overall. They're deep and well-balanced, especially in the bullpen. You have to battle them

Oakland is Oakland. They always seem to be in it at the end. They get just enough runs across and they pitch. They say that pitching wins games. That's why they win so many games. They're going to be real tough again this year.

Seattle also did some things in the offseason to improve. It seems all of the teams in our division did that. It's going to be real competitive and whichever team plays the most consistent baseball will probably win.

To win our division, you have to beat these good teams. When you face these clubs, you are set for a tough series. At the same time, you can show what you and your club can do, and you can make a statement.

Gerald Laird is in his first season as the starting catcher for Texas after serving as a backup catcher for the Rangers the past four seasons. The 27-year-old Laird threw out 43 percent of would-be basestealers last season.