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Could the expect-the-unexpected trend in baseball smile on Texas Rangers in 2009?

Star-Telegram/Tim Bedison

Each Tuesday, the Star-Telegram’s Charean Williams and Ray Buck go point-counterpoint on some of the hot topics in sports. Combined, they’ve covered more than 40 Super Bowls. At SB XLIII, Charean became president of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Can the Texas Rangers be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays?

CHAREAN: Is Nolan coming out of retirement, Ray? The Rangers don’t have the pitching depth to do what the Rays did last season. Plus, they’re in the same division as the Angels. Our hometown team might stay close for three months, but then the really hot weather comes, and the Rangers will wilt.

BUCK: Oh? I guess the Rays had only the Red Sox and Yankees to beat out in their division! The latest trend in baseball has been to expect the unexpected, and the Rangers have a better everyday lineup than three-quarters of the teams in baseball. True, pitching is hold-your-breath scary. True, Texas summers are hot and taxing physically. But the Rays got to the World Series last year with the second-lowest payroll in baseball, so the answer is, yes, it’s possible for the Rangers to be the new Rays. Hey, Tom Hicks is doing his part.

How many majors will Tiger Woods win in 2009?

CHAREAN: I wouldn’t bet against him in any of them, but I’ll say two.

BUCK: This guy is the North Carolina Tar Heels in a Sunday red shirt. He changes the dynamics of the game just by showing up. Tiger returns to the Tour ... and everybody else gags. And if he wins the Masters this week, he could be on his way to winning or three or four majors in ’09.

Should Courtney Paris have to keep her promise and pay back her tuition since the Oklahoma women’s basketball team lost in the Final Four semifinals?

CHAREAN: Courtney Paris did more than enough for OU, with 20 NCAA records and 112 consecutive double-doubles. She is one of the best athletes ever to play at the school. I don’t think she should have to pay it back, but I think she will. She seems as good a person as she is a player.

BUCK: I wouldn’t want to be the person in charge of cashing that check, Charean. If Courtney Paris really does end up paying back $64,000, or whatever it works out to be, we’re more messed up in this country than I thought we were.

Should Mark Cuban implode the Mavericks if they can’t win a first-round series in the playoffs?

CHAREAN: Not this year, Ray, but next year when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, etc. ... are free agents. It’s hard to believe that it was only three years ago that the Mavericks made the NBA Finals. They are going nowhere with the team they have now, but this isn’t the off-season to reload.

BUCK: I totally disagree. You act on it sooner rather than later. Dirk turns 32 the off-season after ’09-10. There’s a very small window of opportunity to win a championship in today’s NBA and a ton of restrictions on changing players. But, as we all know now, the window pretty much slammed shut after the 2006 NBA Finals. Even Jason Kidd (who’s playing well right now) couldn’t come in and rescue things. It’ll definitely be time to rebuild — around Dirk, of course — if this team goes one-and-done in the playoffs.

Does it make sense that NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon is now more popular than ever when he’s not even the best driver on his team?

CHAREAN: Yes, it makes perfect sense, Ray. The gearheads love his wife, Belgian model Ingrid Vandebosch.

BUCK: Gearheads are concentrating on the tire changers on pit road, Charean, you know that. It seems that fans in all sports cheer harder for a superstar with a few warts. Gordon’s vulnerability, i.e., going 47 races without winning (until Sunday at TMS), has endeared him to the public. He no longer is a cocky, arrogant punk ... well, except in Talladega, but you get my drift.

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