Will Rangers roll right into postseason?
MORE BARK OR BITE?
Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.
At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.
While Cliff Lee is certainly a top dog, we'll go with Hamilton, who plays every day and has a chance to win the AL MVP award. Hamilton got off to a slightly slow start, hitting .265 in April, but started to come on in May before lighting it up in June and July. Hamilton gives the middle of the lineup some pop and has a penchant for the big hit. The left-handed hitter is batting a staggering .404 against right-handed pitchers this season with a 1.164 OPS. He's a key contributor on a club trying to clinch the AL West and go on a playoff run.
-- Richard Durrett, ESPN Dallas
It may seem strange to see Guerrero in this category since he leads the team with 86 RBIs, but Guerrero hasn't been nearly as productive the second half of the season as he was the first. He hit just .210 in July and has started August 5-for-27. The offense as a whole has struggled to score runs in the past few weeks. But when other parts of the lineup weren't clicking early in the season, Guerrero came through. This club needs him down the stretch to show more of the production he generated in the first half.
-- Richard Durrett, ESPN Dallas
With comeback seasons, veteran leadership and a solid bullpen. This Rangers ballclub is built from top to bottom, excelling in nearly every facet of the game. The acquisition of Cliff Lee makes a potent team even more dangerous down the stretch.
The year of the comeback
The Rangers' current wins leader is C.J. Wilson, a pitcher who until this season hadn't started a game since his rookie year in 2005. In 23 starts, Wilson is 10-5 with a 3.30 ERA in 141.2 innings. While Wilson is making his return to starting, Colby Lewis is making his return to the United States.
After two seasons in Japan, Lewis has performed well in the Rangers' rotation, going 9-8 with a 3.37 ERA in 22 starts. His 141 strikeouts lead the team, and his 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio is best among Rangers starters not named Cliff Lee.
Tommy Hunter is another pitcher making a comeback, and he's tied with Lewis in wins. After missing the first two months of the season due to injury, Hunter has compiled a 9-1 record in 12 starts. His 3.01 ERA is second among Rangers starting pitchers, behind only Lee.
After missing most of 2009, Josh Hamilton has come back with a vengeance this season, leading the majors with a .354 average to go along with his 24 home runs and 77 RBIs. Vladimir Guerrero has continued the theme of the comeback season, as he has already played in more games (106) this season than he did in all of 2009 (100). Guerrero is currently tied for third in the majors in RBIs (86) and has the seventh-fewest strikeouts (45) among players with a minimum of 400 plate appearances.
Bulls in the 'pen
Neftali Feliz has continued his dominance of hitters, converting 94 percent of his save opportunities this season while striking out 51 batters in 48.1 innings. He is tied for sixth in the majors in saves with 29. His two blown saves tie him with Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano for fewest blown saves among closers with at least 22 saves.
Frank Francisco lost his job as closer on April 11, but has since gone on to pitch in 49 games, accumulating a 5-2 record with two saves, 14 holds, a 2.79 ERA and 55 strikeouts against just 13 walks.
In an apparent thank-you gift to the bullpen, the Rangers went out and acquired ace left-hander Cliff Lee, who leads the majors with seven complete games (two with the Rangers). Since joining Texas, Lee has gone 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA, 37 strikeouts and three walks (two intentional). Lee is averaging just under 8.2 innings pitched per outing with the Rangers.
You've already heard about Guerrero's and Hamilton's solid campaigns, but they are not alone. Nelson Cruz and Michael Young have helped solidify the lineup, with Cruz hitting .313 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs and Young chipping in a .291 average, 16 home runs and 64 RBIs while playing solid defense at third base.
Young's move to third last season has allowed Elvis Andrus -- an All-Star this season -- to shine at short. Ian Kinsler has been injured of late, but played well enough (.298 average, career-high .387 OBP) in the first half to earn an All-Star nomination.
Fast facts: Where the Rangers rank in the AL
• Tied for second with six All-Stars
• Tied for second in saves (34)
• Second in batting average allowed (.243)
• Third in ERA (3.78)
• Third in batting average (.274)
• Fourth in hits (1,065)
• Fourth in OBP (.340)
• Fifth in runs scored (556)
• Fifth in steals (90)
-- Derek Czenczelewski, ESPN Stats & Info blog
Going into the season, the Texas Rangers were in turmoil. The team's owner was bankrupt, the slow roll toward an auction was set in motion, and adding salary did not seem to be an option. Most preseason indicators had the Los Angeles Angels winning the AL West -- six division titles in a row will earn you some respect.
Perhaps everyone should have noticed what a nice, young core the Rangers had put together -- Andrus, Cruz, Kinsler, Feliz and Derek Holland, among others.
Now, those same turmoil-laden Rangers have better than a 90 percent chance to make the playoffs.
Seems the only question left is: Can this be sustained?
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