Ask 100 Texas Rangers fans who their favorite player is, and if you take out the women choosing Elvis Andrus or even (still) Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, you could put pretty safe money on at least 70 of them answering with six syllables — A-dr-i-an Bel-tre.
After a stint on the 15-day disabled list with a strained quadriceps muscle, the heart and soul of the Rangers' team is set to return to the lineup on Friday night as the Rangers open a three-game set in Seattle.
Somehow, the Rangers have not only stayed afloat without Beltre, but they've gained ground and are now tied for first with Oakland in the AL West and also have the best record in the American League. Kevin Kouzmanoff, who's now dealing with a back issue himself, filled in more than admirably for Beltre and won AL Player of the Week honors last week.
But Kouzmanoff is Kouzmanoff. Beltre is Beltre.
Having him back in the lineup will be a huge boost to the Rangers, specifically Prince Fielder and Alex Rios, who will sandwich Beltre in the Rangers' lineup. In Beltre's absence, Fielder has been intentionally walked nine times, which is an MLB record for the month of April and a Rangers record for whenever.
Before he hit the DL, Beltre was hitting .286 with a .394 on-base percentage. He's yet to homer, but that will come. Beltre has eclipsed the 30-home run mark in each of his three seasons with the Rangers, and having Fielder and Rios protecting him will get him plenty of good hitters' pitches.
Now, the Rangers just have to hope Beltre's legs can hold up for the rest of the season.