The 2010 MLB First Half Surprise Debate… Rangers Shine Amid Uncertainty

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

For me it has been a fun first half of the season in Major League Baseball. The Braves are in first place in the N.L East (which is surprising) and there have been five four no-hitters, including perfect games by Armando Galarraga, Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jiminez. If you take a look at the standings, there are some real shockers – both in a positive way as well as a negative way. Two of those will be highlighted by my colleagues today. I don’t know if anyone expected the Phillies to be in third in the N.L. East, and I’m pretty sure hardly anyone expected the Angels to be 4.5 games back at the All Star-break. But the team I have my eye on for the biggest surprise in the first half of the season is the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers, despite the turmoil involving ownership (including a rumored bid by a group that includes Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban), the team currently leads the A.L. West by 4.5 games. I must say I am shocked. I know Nolan Ryan was saying all the right things in the off-season about how he expected the Rangers to be right there in contention for the division title, but I chalked that up to the usual run of the mill off-season optimism. I know the team won 87 games in 2009. But, not only have the Rangers been in contention, the team has dominated the division for much of the season – even after a recent stretch when they dropped seven of ten. The record still currently stands at 50-38.

Remember when it was reported in the off-season that manager Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season. I actually thought he could be one of the first managers to go if the Rangers started out the season poorly. Now, I think he’s one of the favorites to be the American League Manager of the Year.

It’s relatively easy to have a good offense at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The ball jumps out of the park, and the batter’s eye is very hitter friendly. That has led to outstanding seasons by Josh Hamilton and Vladamir Guerrero, who are two of the Rangers’ five All-Stars (six counting recent acquisition Cliff Lee). Hamilton, who is currently hitting .346 with 22 HR and 64 RBI, hit an amazing .454 in the month of June, causing him to be named the A.L. player of the month. Guerrero, who was discarded by the Angels at the end of last season, returned to the Vlad of old and is currently second in the majors in RBI with 75. The middle of the infield features two All-Stars in Ian Kinsler and the exciting youngster Elvis Andrus.

The Rangers knew the hitting would be good, but the pitching staff has been a nice surprise with the team currently posting an ERA under four, at 3.97. It’s a number that will probably improve with the Lee acquisition. So far the rotation has been led by Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson (Go ahead and say it… who?). The bullpen, led by All-Star Neftali Perez, has provided more closure than fictional Texas Ranger Cordell Walker. The bullpen has posted an ERA of 3.39 to this point.

It’s going to be tough to catch the Rangers in the West. The Angels may make a run, but if Hamilton and Guerrero stay hot then the rest of the American League – including Babe Ruthless’ beloved Yankees – better watch out.

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