Commentary

And the first-half awards go to ...

It's time to recognize the best (and strangest) moments from the Rangers' first half

Updated: July 14, 2010, 7:00 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Despite entering the post-All-Star Game portion of the schedule fresh off a sweep at the hands of the lowly Baltimore Orioles, the Texas Rangers sit on top of the American League West thanks to a monster June.

Manager Ron Washington said the three-day break couldn't have come at a better time for his club. We'll see whether it leaves the team refreshed and ready for a difficult two-month push to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

But before the club faces the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park to begin the unofficial second half of the season, let's give out some first-half awards.

First-half MVP: Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton

Guerrero
Guerrero
Hamilton
Hamilton

OK, I took the easy way out by not picking between the two. But it's impossible to choose. Guerrero has provided huge hits, and his presence in the cleanup spot has had a ripple effect on the entire lineup. He's also been the most consistent offensive producer on this club since the season started. His 75 RBIs are second in the AL to Miguel Cabrera, and he already has hit 20 home runs. The injury-prone guy who couldn't run on bad knees in 2009 has morphed back into a healthy, powerful hitter who's not afraid to take an extra base when he can.

Hamilton, after a slow start, has become a dominant force. He's tied for the lead league in average at .346 thanks to a ridiculous June. He batted .454 in June with nine homers and 31 RBIs. He now has 22 homers on the season, and the 29-year-old looks like the guy who took the majors by storm in 2008.

Both Hamilton and Guerrero have given the lineup huge boosts and have played like MVPs.

Top first-half starter: Colby Lewis

No, Cliff Lee doesn't qualify, because he just arrived in Texas. The guy who pitched the previous two seasons in Japan has been the club's top starter so far. Lewis, whose career started with the Rangers as a compensation pick between the first and second rounds in 1999, has taken a winding path to become a quality starter.

Lewis is 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts. The eight wins are the most on the team, and Lewis has a team-high 105 strikeouts.

[+] EnlargeDarren Oliver
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE Darren Oliver has held lefties to a .188 batting average and righties to a .194 mark.

Top first-half reliever: Darren Oliver

Sure, you could make a strong case for Neftali Feliz. He has 23 saves and is in the All-Star Game. But I'm going to give this to Oliver, who was the glue for a bullpen that led the league in innings. He has pitched in all kinds of situations and has proved he can get righties out just as much as lefties. He has a 1.36 ERA in 39 2/3 innings (39 appearances) and has provided veteran leadership to a young bullpen.

You think the Angels miss Guerrero and Oliver this season?

Biggest first-half surprise: C.J. Wilson

He won a spot in the starting rotation after working hard in the offseason and earning the job in spring training. Wilson has made the transition look easy. He's 7-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 113 innings, the most he's accumulated since throwing 123 innings for Double-A Frisco in 2003.

Maybe the most important stat: The Rangers are 12-6 when Wilson starts. The 29-year-old has 82 strikeouts and 55 walks. He's pitched well enough that if you had to set the Rangers' postseason rotation (yes, it's way too early to think about that, but we'll do it anyway), he'd be slotted right behind Lee and Lewis.

Biggest first-half disappointment: Rich Harden

Harden
Harden

First base as a whole has been a disappointment, but for all the expectations for Harden, he gets this award. I'm still predicting he will return to the rotation (if a spot opens up) and show he's a much better pitcher than the one who started the season. But there's little doubt that when you trade Kevin Millwood and use much of the money savings on Harden ($6.5 million) and he gives you three wins and very few long starts, you aren't getting what you paid for.

Harden is 3-3 with a 5.68 ERA in 13 starts. But he's pitched just 65 innings, an average of five innings per outing. Harden's control has been extremely inconsistent. He still has good stuff, as his 59 strikeouts show. But he couldn't find his command, as the 43 walks show. Harden, who is on the disabled list with a strained glute, must prove he can get batters out and find his location in some rehab starts before he'll be given another shot in the rotation. And that shot will come only if one of the Rangers' current starters falters.

Strangest first-half moment: Falling fan

The moment was scary and surreal when a fan fell from the club concourse into the lower bowl of Rangers Ballpark, a 30-foot drop. Players had trouble describing it. But Tyler Morris, 25, was moving around and conscious after the fall, and he was released from the hospital a few days later.

"It was a pretty disturbing visual," Michael Young said. "I saw the whole thing. When he was about halfway down, I turned my head. I couldn't watch anymore. I'm glad to hear he's all right. I think guys on both sides were pretty shaken up."

[+] EnlargeMichael Young
AP Photo/Cody DutyMichael Young becoming the franchise's all-time hits leader was one of many highlights for the Rangers in the first half of the season.

Best first-half moment: Michael Young breaks all-time hits mark

Young, having another typically consistent and solid season, broke the franchise mark for career hits June 16 at Florida with an RBI single. Young passed Ivan Rodriguez that night with 1,748 hits in his Rangers career. He owns many of the club's records and is likely to claim a few more down the road.

His teammates clearly were happy for him, and the club held a ceremony in his honor before Saturday's game against the Orioles.

Best first-half stretch: Hamilton's 23-game hitting streak in June

It was one of those three-week stretches in which the baseball was a softball to Hamilton. He hit .457 with nine homers and 29 RBIs. He also had nine doubles and a triple and a .862 slugging percentage. Hamilton had six games with three or more hits, including a 5-for-6 performance in Houston. Texas went 18-5 during the streak.

Most up-and-down first half: Nelson Cruz

He started out great, hitting .323 in April and .333 for part of May, until he went on the disabled list with hamstring issues. He hit OK when he returned but went back on the disabled list shortly thereafter. Since returning last month, Cruz has struggled. He is hitting just .222 in July and has just one homer in his past 67 at-bats. And it seems like the past few weeks, he has come up with runners in scoring position and hasn't been able to get the job done. The Rangers need Cruz to return to his early-season form to help them make a second-half push toward the postseason.

Most controversial moment: Hamilton's homer that wasn't called a homer

Hamilton hit a ball that appeared to go out for what would have been his second homer against the Orioles on May 19. The ball hit off the back wall just over the fence at Rangers Ballpark, which is a home run. The umpires ruled it hit the top of the wall. They didn't check the replay, something they could have done.

"It should have been a home run," crew chief Dana DeMuth said after the game. "We had the opportunity to go in and look, and I did not do it. It's bad judgment by me, but I have to have trust in the crew. Ultimately I missed the call."

Despite the blown call, the Rangers managed to win 4-3 on Cruz's ninth-inning sacrifice fly.

Best pitching performance: Lewis vs. Lee in Seattle

Months before Lee was a Ranger, he made his Mariners debut coming off the disabled list at home against the Rangers. He did so opposed by Lewis, who turned in his best performance of the season in matching Lee that night (April 30).

Lewis went nine scoreless innings on three hits with 10 strikeouts and one walk. But he didn't get the win, although the Rangers prevailed in extra innings. Lee went seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. So Lewis was able to hang with Lee on the road and give his team a chance to win.

Colby Lewis
AP Photo/Pat SullivanStarter Colby Lewis and catcher Matt Treanor have performed above and beyond expectations in the first half.

It also was the start of the Rangers' resurgence. The club struggled some out of the gate but began to get it together. Lewis' start seemed to have a ripple effect on the rotation, too, which put up some impressive numbers after that.

Top first-half rookie: Feliz

The 22-year-old wasn't the closer when the season began. But after Frank Francisco struggled in a few early closing opportunities, Feliz had the job by the second week of the season. And he hasn't given it up. Feliz is tied for second in the AL with 23 saves (in 25 opportunities). His electric fastball, which can produce triple-digit readings on the radar gun, has left hitters flummoxed.

Unsung hero: Matt Treanor

He arrived about a week before spring training ended as insurance and was sent to the minors. But Jarrod Saltalamacchia's disabled list stint following the Opening Day game put Treanor in the majors. When Taylor Teagarden struggled, Treanor found himself the starter.

While he didn't put up great numbers consistently, he called good games and kept the pitchers focused. He showed toughness in hanging in through plenty of bumps and bruises, and earned the respect of his teammates. Bengie Molina, acquired in a trade, probably will get most of the playing time down the stretch, but Treanor will get his chances.

Key chemistry producer: Ron Washington

It's easy to forget the manager, but Washington deserves a ton of credit. Sure, you can question some of his strategic decisions (that's the case with all managers), but the Rangers play hard for Washington.

There have been plenty of off-field distractions, from Washington's admission of a failed drug test to the ongoing ownership situation. But he's kept his team focused on the task at hand. He's also managed to avoid allowing his mistake to eat away at him to the point that he can't do his job. Washington has worried solely about getting his team ready to play every day and keeping his players as fresh as he can. Sometimes he's used unconventional methods to do that (resting Elvis Andrus and Young on the same day, for instance), but so far he's pushed the right buttons.

First-half MVP, non-player: Jon Daniels

It's not difficult to make a case for the Rangers' general manager as the top front-office person in the league through the first half of 2010. Daniels worked hard before the season, landing Guerrero and Lewis, two of the top free-agent signings this winter. And he engineered the trade that brought Lee to Texas to bolster the rotation for the stretch drive.

Daniels might not hit on every decision -- Harden hasn't impacted the club the way he hoped and Khalil Greene didn't show up to spring training. But in trading Millwood, Daniels freed up enough money to use some on Guerrero. And he got Chris Ray in the trade, which helped him acquire catching help in Molina.

The GM might not be finished, either. There are still a few weeks until the trade deadline.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE MLB HEADLINES