SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 07: Michael Young #10 of the Texas Rangers is congratulated by manager Ron Washington (L) after scoring a run on a double by teammate Yorvit Torrealba in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants in the first meeting between the two teams since the World Series during the spring training game at Scottsdale Stadium on March 7, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Michael Young;Ron Washington
With the mythical midway point of the Major League Baseball season here, and the All-Star Game set for tonight, let's take a look back at the Rangers season so far as they sit at 51-41 with a 1-game lead over their division nemesis, the Los Angeles Angels.
Let the ceremony begin ...
MVP — This has to be Michael Young. Just five months ago, we all were resigned to the fact that Mr. Ranger, the face of the franchise would no longer be here. He had a well publicized spat with Jon Daniels and the Rangers front office and demanded a trade. He was close to being a Colorado Rockie. Thank goodness that didn't happen. Young has been the Rangers top hitter this year, and hasn't been close. He's hitting .323 at the break. Josh Hamilton, at .301, is the only other regular hitting .300 or better and that's in close to 150 less at-bats. In his time as a utility defender, he has two errors in 253 total chances in the field, playing first, third and second base. This is an easy call.
Top acquisition — Full disclosure, I made up this category because I had to give Young MVP. But this is obviously Adrian Beltre. Entering the season, no one was sure what to expect from the enigmatic third baseman with a golden glove. We did know he'd be a huge defensive upgrade over Young at third base, but his history said he hit big in contract years, got his money, and relaxed. It also said he likes to get injured. So far, there's been no DL stints, and he's an RBI machine. He's hitting .273 out of the clean-up spot, is second on the team in home runs with 19 and is far and away the biggest run producer with a lofty 71 RBIs at the break.
Biggest surprise — Again, a no-brainer. Alexi Ogando entered the season as a stop-gap starter when Tommy Hunter started the season on the DL, and continued to linger there until his recent return. Ogando got off to a blistering start at 7-0, going at least six innings in his first 12 starts after tallying just more than 40 innings out of the bullpen as a rookie last year. He had a rough stretch with three poor starts in a row but has since turned things around with two more gems. He's now 9-3, an identical record to ace C.J. Wilson, and has an ERA of 2.92 in 104 2/3 innings of work.
Best pitcher — Full disclosure, I didn't make up the previous category to give Wilson this one. I honestly believe he has been the best pitcher on the staff this year. Every time he takes the hill, the Rangers know they have a good chance to win the game. With Ogando, there's still that uncertainty. With Wilson, that uncertainty is gone after just a season and a half of starting. Wilson is 9-3 with a 3.20 ERA and leads the staff in innings pitched so far with 132. The biggest improvement Wilson has made is his strikeout:walk ratio. He's sitting at 117 strikeouts and 42 walks. Last year, he had 170 strikeouts and led the league with 93 walks. His numbers this year appear to be on pace to be much more efficient.
Top moment — This past Saturday, and again, it's not really close. Josh Hamilton hadn't had a walk-off home run in three years. That one was against the Angels in a key division game. This one was against the A's, in a less key division game. But with the Angels chasing closely, every game is big right now. But that's not what made Hamilton's two-run walk-off blast so huge. It was the preceeding few days in which Hamilton had thrown the ball to Brownwood firefighter Shannon Stone, who tragically fell to his death behind the left field wall with his young son watching. It was a terrible tragedy and set off a somber weekend at the ballpark. The Rangers needed that. The Rangers fans needed that, and most importantly Josh Hamilton needed that.