Texas Rangers: Bold Predictions for the Second Half
The American League may have just lost a third straight All-Star game, but that won't slow the Texas Rangers down from making it to a third straight World Series.
Texas dominated much of the first portion of the season. Its offense was fantastic and, despite a number of injuries, the pitching staff endured and performed well.
The Rangers are four games up on the Los Angeles Angels and their battle for the division crown will go down to the last weeks.
However, no matter the way they reach the postseason, they will perform well.
The losses from the last two World Series are still fresh, and this team is motivated to finally get it done.
So, let's take a look of what you can expect to see out of Texas in the second half. .
The Rangers Will Retain the Division Crown
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Angels may have started out slow, but the call-up of rookie sensation Mike Trout sparked the team.
Now, they’re nipping on the Rangers heels for the AL West lead.
L.A. and Texas may be the most talented teams in the majors. Unfortunately for the pair, they play in the same division.
Texas is the offensive juggernaut with a deep pitching staff and a dominating bullpen. The Angels feature the most gifted rotation in baseball and a trio of star sluggers—Trout, Mark Trumbo and Albert Pujols—that would put a scare into any opponent.
On paper these teams are extremely close, but the Rangers have one advantage over the Angels that can't be measured by stats.
Texas has made it to two straight World Series and they have dealt with the rigors of the postseason over that stretch.
The Angels, on the other hand, are leaning on a pair of young players—Trout and Trumbo—who haven’t felt the pressure of October baseball yet. Both have handled the majors with maturity beyond their years, but as players like Alex Rodriguez can attest, the playoffs are a different animal.
The top two teams in the AL West are unbelievably talented, but only the Rangers have the recent experience.
That will make the difference for Texas.
Mike Napoli and Michael Young Will Break out of Their Slumps
Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Michael Young is one of the best players to ever don a Rangers uniform and Mike Napoli is one of the most popular, but both had terrible first halves.
Napoli, despite starting in the All-Star game, hit only .228 in the first half. Young, one of the most consistent performers in baseball, also stumbled, batting only .270 with just three home runs.
Ironically, Napoli and Young are both batting 32 points below their career averages—Young at .302 and Napoli at .260.
Young is one of the steadiest players in the MLB, but he never really seemed to get out of the gate. He's hasn’t been hot for a prolonged stretch and he’s not pounding the ball with quite the same pop.
However, he will break out soon.
Young showed signs of this the week before the All-Star break. He was driving the ball the opposite way with power, the key to his game.
If Young starts to do that with any sort of regularity, he will be challenging the .300 mark by the end of the season.
Napoli is a little bit harder to pin down. He's never been a particularity great average hitter, more in the mold of an all-or-nothing guy.
Despite that, he went on a magical run in the second half of last season. He followed a .232/.344/.529 first half split with a .383/.466/.706, 18-homer burst after the Midsummer Classic. He was the best player in baseball in the second half of last season, and has the potential to do it again.
He probably won't put up quite the same numbers in 2012. After all, he still swings at too many bad pitches and is impatient at the plate.
Though, you can expect a boost, and come October there will be chants of "Napoli! Napoli!" ringing in Arlington again.
Josh Hamilton Will Be the AL MVP
Cooper Neill/Getty Images
In May, Josh Hamilton was the hottest player in baseball and looked like a lock for the AL MVP.
Then the dog days of summer hit.
Hamilton has struggled mightily in June and July. His batting average dropped more points than weight Jonah Hill lost last year, but like Hill's waistline, Hamilton will rebound.
He has more pure talent and ability than any player of his generation, and his prolonged stretch during the summer, where he's hitting below .200, will not continue.
Hamilton is still a great contact hitter. All he has to do to get back to normal is make a slight adjustment at the plate and be a little more patient.
Right now pitchers are throwing him nothing but off-speed pitches, which he just seems to flail at. However, if he can wait and force a few hitters’ counts, pitchers will be forced to throw him some fastballs, which he destroys.
If the average stays up, there will be nothing holding him back from the MVP.
He entered the All-Star break tied for the AL lead in home runs and has big lead in the RBI race.
Hamilton will surely continue belting moonshots and the Rangers' offense will always give him chances to drive in runs. Plus, Texas will continue to win, so Hamilton is in the perfect position to become a two-time MVP.
All he has to do to accomplish that is work deeper into a few more counts.
The Pitching Staff Will Come Back Healthy and Dominate
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Thanks to a myriad of injuries to members of the starting staff and the bullpen, the Rangers' pitching staff looked more like their Triple-A team than the two-time AL champs right before the All-Star break.
Help is on the way though.
Derek Holland came back before the Midsummer Classic, and delivered a solid outing against the Twins. Colby Lewis will return shortly too, and will be fifth in the Rangers' rotation after the break.
Adding these two will shore up a questionable bottom half of the staff, by taking the inconsistent Scott Feldman and rookie Martin Perez out of the fold.
This means the Ranger rotation will look like this: Holland, All-Stars Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison, Roy Oswalt and Lewis.
Sound like a pretty solid group huh?
However, that's not even taking in to consideration the bullpen.
Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando are headed for rehab assignments. When they return the Rangers will add that pair to Joe Nathan and Mike Adams, a group that will be almost uninhabitable after the sixth inning.
That's not even including rookie Robbie Ross and former closer Koji Uehara, each of whom are capable of coming into game and shutting teams down.
When healthy, the Rangers have the best all-around staff in the MLB, and it will lead them to a division title.
The Third Time Will Be the Charm in the World Series
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Very few teams in the history of sports get the opportunity to go to three straight finals.
Even fewer have broken a losing streak and won a title. Actually, in the over 100 years of baseball history a team has only lost two straight World Series and then won the next year once out of three chances.
In 2012, the Rangers will become the second.
They have the No. 1 offense in the MLB and their pitching staff is extremely deep, talented and underrated.
Texas also has the best player in baseball, in Hamilton, and now that Mariano Rivera is hurt, the most proven and dominate closer in the game with Nathan.
Still, it will be a tough road to get out of the AL.
However, the Rangers are the most complete team out of that group and they will claw their way back into the Fall Classic.
When they get there they will face a much weaker overall NL. All of the top teams have holes and it's a guessing game as to which team comes out of that side of the bracket.
This will be an advantage for Texas, but it still has to face the demons of winning in an NL park in the World Series, where they are 1-5 the last two years.
Because of the NL's victory in the All-Star game the Rangers will have to scrape out a victory on the road too. In the end though, they will pull through.
This team is ready to take the next step, and they will finally be able to raise a championship banner instead of just an AL pennant when the 2013 season kicks off.