So what is it like to be the defending American League champions with, as manager Ron Washington puts it, an "X" on your back?

"I don't know," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "I've never been there."

It's time to find out. It's time for the Rangers to defend their American League championship. The Rangers will begin defense of their trophy on Friday afternoon when they host the Red Sox on Opening Day 2011 at the Ballpark in Arlington.

The Rangers are as confident as they were a year ago. They also know they are not going to sneak up on anybody. They are no longer the bankrupt franchise that had not been to the playoffs in the past 11 years.

As defending champions, they are the team to beat in the AL.

"Definitely, the teams we play have been made aware of who we are," Kinsler said. "We're not sneaking up on anybody but that's the way we like it. We like the challenge."

Opening Day results: March 31 | April 1
Rangers 9, Red Sox 5
WP: Oliver   LP: Bard
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The Rangers' mantra this spring has been to just stay healthy, and they were able to do that for the most part until Tommy Hunter suffered a strained right groin muscle in what would have been his last start in Arizona. Hunter was down to be the Rangers' fourth starter before he got hurt. Instead, Texas was left scrambling to figure out the final piece for the rotation in the final days in the desert.

"We're still ready to go," infielder Michael Young said. "We had a couple of bang-ups in Spring Training, and Tommy was unfortunate. But the main thing is still to stay healthy. We just need health and consistency, if we do that, we'll be good to go.

"We need to play well at home like we usually do, but one goal we need to set out to do is play well on the road. Playing at home is a huge advantage for us, but we should have an advantage on the road, too. We have too good of talent and too good of a team for it not to be an advantage."

The Rangers know the Angels still have experience and a championship pedigree, they know the Athletics could be an up-and-coming threat with their good young pitching and improved offense and they know the Mariners will have good pitching because they have Felix Hernandez.

Baseball's smallest division is still pitching-rich. The Rangers believe they have the arms to compete, but they know a rotation headed by C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis depends on Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and possibly Alexi Ogando to have breakthrough seasons as starters.

They could have had Neftali Feliz in the rotation, but the Rangers want to win now and still believe he gives them the best chance of doing that by remaining in the closer role. And there may be reinforcements coming in May with Hunter and Brandon Webb. Both will start the season on the disabled list, and the Rangers' depth is stretched thin right now, so they need their young starters to come out hard right from the beginning.

TEXAS RANGERS
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 2B Ian Kinsler
2 SS Elvis Andrus
3 LF Josh Hamilton
4 3B Adrian Beltre
5 DH Michael Young
6 RF Nelson Cruz
7 1B Mike Napoli
8 C Yorvit Torrealba
9 CF Julio Borbon
Projected rotation
1 LHP C.J. Wilson
2 RHP Colby Lewis
3 LHP Matt Harrison
4 RHP Alexi Ogando
5 LHP Derek Holland
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Neftali Feliz
SU LHP Darren Oliver
SU RHP Darren O'Day
SU LHP Arthur Rhodes
MI RHP Mark Lowe
MI RHP David Bush
MI RHP Mason Tobin
MI RHP Pedro Strop
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

"They're young, but they're talented," Washington said. "They know what needs to be done -- now they have to go out and do it. But we have confidence in them. They have all been throwing the ball well."

The Rangers also believe they have one of the best offenses in the league, with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz in the middle of the order. Both Kinsler, in the leadoff spot, and Young, batting fifth, had excellent springs in their new spots in the lineup, Elvis Andrus should fit perfectly in the No. 2 spot and Mitch Moreland fought off a challenge from Chris Davis to keep a tight grip at first base. They have two frontline catchers in Yorvit Torrealba and Mike Napoli.

There are concerns about Julio Borbon's defense this spring, but the statistics show he was the best defensive center fielder in the league last year with the highest ultimate zone rating at the position. If he does stumble, the Rangers can move Hamilton back to center and redoubtable David Murphy is in left.

The Rangers did shake things up by signing free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, forcing Young into an undesired role as designated hitter/utility infielder. But Beltre left no doubt in Spring Training that he can play excellent defense.

"There is a lot to like about this team," Kinsler said. "The good thing is our clubhouse will stay the same, because the new guys have come in and fit in smoothly."

There are some questions about their bullpen, because Darren O'Day, Mark Lowe and Arthur Rhodes all struggled this spring. But that's why Feliz was kept in the closer role -- and the rest of the division doesn't have that kind of weapon at the back end of the game.

"The thing I'm pleased with the most is my regulars are locked in and ready to go," Washington said. "If we can pitch, catch the ball and stay healthy, I'll take my chances with this team."

It's time to defend the title.