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Beltre: Rangers got too comfortable last year, won't happen again

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers star third baseman Adrian Beltre didn't hesitate when asked who's the team to beat in the tough American League West.

"The Angels," Beltre said. "They look unbelievable. Their offense is tough to match right now."

But as Beltre well knows, it isn't always the team that looks best on paper that wins it. That lesson was reinforced last year when a very young and comparatively anonymous A's team came back to beat the Rangers to win the AL West, who in Beltre's estimation took the division title for granted.

"It's not good to just assume that your team is already in the playoffs. Last year I think we got too comfortable," said Beltre, as respected a player as there is in the game.

The result, a lost division title, was nothing less than shocking, Beltre admitted.

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Rangers people figured they had the best team last year, and when they were 89-60 and held a four-game lead with less than two weeks to go the concern seemed to be about whether they could beat the Yankees for home-field advantage. But their season-ending slide helped the hot, upstart A's beat them by a game to take the AL West. The surprise loss of the division meant the Rangers had to play in the wild-card game, which they also lost, at home to the Orioles.

"Last year we really didn't take [the A's] seriously, until the last couple weeks," said Beltre, who wound up chooing the Rangers over the Angels and A's as a free agent two years ago.

The Rangers won't repeat that attitude, Beltre promised. For one, their team doesn't look quite as stacked on paper, not with Josh Hamilton gone to the Angels (helping make that lineup look deadly), and Michael Young and Mike Napoli gone, too.

"We're hungry," Beltre said. "We still have a little bit of a bad taste. We are the hunter now."

He doesn't pay attention when he hears folks predicting one team or the other to win the division. "We don't care about predictions," Beltre said in what seems to be a theme in the clubhouse. "We don't give a bleep about them."

With all the star player defections, Beltre said, "I think we're still going to be OK." While Hamilton makes the Angels' batting order intimidating, Beltre said there's an even bigger loss.

"We'll miss a little offense, but the thing we'll miss most is Michael [Young] being in the clubhouse," Beltre said. "That's hard to replace. But there's nothing we can do about it. We'll work with what we have. I still believe we have a good team and can win the West. But it's going to be a little different. It's not the same. But we can do it."

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