Young's transition set stage for first-half run
Veteran's all-around leadership crucial to Rangers' success
ARLINGTON -- The biggest news made by the Rangers in the offseason was the announcement that Michael Young was moving to third to make room for shortstop Elvis Andrus.
There was much angst involved, considering Young wasn't happy with the unilateral decision and suggested a trade might be best for all concerned. Ultimately cooler heads prevailed and it turned out to benefit all parties.With Andrus anchoring a much-improved defense, the Rangers appear to be contenders again. Fundamental baseball has returned to Arlington as pitching and defense have kept the Rangers right there with the Angels at the top of the American League West. Andrus has been outstanding at shortstop, and Young has upgraded the defense at third. With Kevin Millwood and a much-improved bullpen leading the way, the Rangers' pitching is no longer the bane of their existence. Instead it's a big reason why the club feels good about its ability to stay in the race to the end. The rotation has been hurt by injuries. Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy are both on the disabled list, but Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter have helped fill out the rotation behind Millwood and Vicente Padilla. The offense hasn't been as powerful as it has been over the past two decades, but that could change if Josh Hamilton stays healthy for the second half. Club MVP: Young is healthy again and on track for another .300/200-hit season. He remains the club's undisputed leader. His work ethic and coolness under pressure remain models for the rest of the team. Call him 'Ace': Kevin Millwood won on Opening Day, setting the tone for the rest of the pitching staff. He was named Rangers Player of the Month for April and June. He has been in the league's top 10 in ERA for most of the first half and has pitched like a No. 1 starter. Greatest strength: The Rangers' bullpen has been excellent. It has an excellent 1-2 combination of Frank Francisco and C.J. Wilson at the back end, and general manager Jon Daniels did well in adding right-handers Jason Grilli and Darren O'Day. Moving Jason Jennings to the bullpen also proved astute, and Derek Holland has proven to be a weapon as a reliever. Doug Mathis has shown he can contribute as a long/middle reliever and Eddie Guardado's leadership is invaluable. Biggest problem: So far the levees are holding, but injuries threaten to flood the rotation again. With McCarthy and Harrison on the DL, the Rangers are still short one starter. Not having Eric Hurley this season has been a huge setback. Biggest surprise: Feldman pitches in relative obscurity, but he has been excellent as a third starter. The Rangers started him in the bullpen, but that proved to be an error in judgment. Feldman has yet to pitch seven innings in a game, but the six innings he gives are usually quite good. Team needs: The Rangers don't have much money to spend, but there's no doubt they could use one more starter. They've talked about a right-handed bat and reinforcing the bullpen, but they need one more starting pitcher. He said it: We're a confident bunch. We don't get down or let things bother us. We know that if we go out there and play good baseball the way we are capable, make adjustments and execute, we're going to be fine. We have a good team. -- Michael Young Mark your calendars: The Rangers are home for 12 of the first 15 games after the All-Star break against the Twins (July 17-19), Red Sox (July 20-22), Tigers (July 27-29) and Mariners (July 30-Aug. 1). But they play 11 of their last 14 games on the road against the Athletics (Sept. 21-24), Angels (Sept. 28-Oct. 1) and Mariners (Oct. 2-4). Fearless forecast: The Rangers need big second halves from Padilla, Hamilton and Hank Blalock. They should stay in the race until September, but they need to upgrade their rotation to win this thing.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.