Michael Young has plenty to smile about as the Texas Rangers open a big homestand against the American League West, and for a change, it has nothing to do with offense.
My friends in the world of sports caution me constantly about expecting a playoff run from the Rangers, but I've always been a little reckless so I'm going to ignore their warnings for now.
What does a team have to display at this time of the season to be considered a true contender?
Starting pitching, strong bullpen, good defense, and of course enough bats in the lineup. I list the bats last, because the one thing Texas always has is offense.
The other fundamentals of the game are what normally eludes the Rangers, especially as the season moves into the summer months. However, those paying attention to the recent stretch of games that has launched the Rangers into first place see something unusual, at least for this franchise.
The offense, without Josh Hamilton and losing Michael Young in Chicago, hasn't come close to firing on all cylinders. So you tell me, why are the Rangers off to their best start in three years without the bats clicking?
You know those other fundamentals I mentioned earlier, the same fundamentals that have been non-existent in Arlington since the days of David Clyde? This late in May, for the first time in 10 years, those fundamentals are not just solid, but getting better on a nightly basis.
Rangers starters are pitching into the 7th and 8th innings on a regular basis. Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla are setting a tone at the top of the rotation that has rubbed off on the bottom three in the rotation. The bullpen, rested for a change, have figured out how to close games; and the addition of Darren O'Day was another brilliant move by Jon Daniels.
Part of the reason the Rangers are giving up fewer runs begins and ends with defense. The move to third by Michael Young, with the steady and flashy defense played by young Elvis Andrus, gives the Rangers their best infield alignment in years.
All that is left for the Rangers should be the easiest to achieve.
With Josh Hamilton set to return along with Michael Young for the homestand opener, the hitters will all be able to settle into their roles providing an opportunity to gel with the other phases of the game.
If this all comes together, the Rangers could have a season defining homestand against their AL West rivals.
It won't be easy as the Mariners have enough pitching to stay competitive and the Angels are approaching full strength, but the 2010 target season for contention might be a year late the way these Rangers are putting it together.