The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are in the midst of what could be one of the tightest division race's in recent AL West history. Just a game-and-a-half stand between the first place and reigning division champion Rangers from the Angels with a little over 40 games remaining in the season.
A big reason the Rangers are still in first place is because of Mike Napoli's dominance at the plate of late. On June 9, Napoli was batting a terrible .189 and was destined to be just another swing for the fences player with a bad average. Since then he has used 13 multi-hit games to raise his average over 100 points to a career best .294.
The combination of Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba have given the Rangers something they did not have during their memorable World Series run from a year ago—a catcher that can hit. While Matt Treanor and Bengie Molina did a masterful job with the pitching staff, more often than not they could not hit themselves out of a paper bag.
Napoli is on pace to set career high's in batting average, on-base percentage, home runs and runs batted in. Despite playing in only 70 games, Napoli is nearing 20 home runs and is batting an insane .455 since the All-Star break. His average of a home run every 12.27 at-bats is easily first on a team that is in the top three in home runs.
What makes Napoli's resurgence even more special for the Rangers is the fact that he was an Angel at this time last year. In one of the worst trades of the offseason, the Angels traded Mike Napoli to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells and his $23 million price tag. Napoli was then flipped to the Rangers for relief pitcher Frank Francisco.
Basically the Angels traded Mike Napoli to their strongest competition in the Rangers for a guy in Wells that has not come close to living up to his absurd salary. This came after the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre, the Angels top target on the free agent market, to a six-year deal just a few weeks earlier. If the Rangers can pull out another division title, an ex-Angel could be to thank.
To make matters worse for the Angels, this is not the first time this has happened. In fact, just last year the Rangers signed Angels cast-off Vladimir Guerrero and he became an All-Star and hit cleanup for Texas. While the Angels were justified in letting go the oft-injured and under-performing Guerrero, allowing him to sign with your greatest foe in the division that is ready to compete should be unacceptable.
The Rangers also used former Angels Darren O'Day and Darren Oliver to solidify one of the best bullpen's in the American League last year.
Mike Napoli's consistent average has been a welcomed surprise for a Rangers team that has sometimes struggled in clutch times. If Napoli can keep it up the Rangers are in good shape.