Vladimir Guerrero Leads Charge for First-Place Rangers


July 15, 2010

Vladimir Guerrero Leads Charge for First-Place Rangers The 2010 Texas Rangers have had a whirlwind of a season, both on and off the field.

On one hand, the organization filed for bankruptcy in May and will be auctioned off on Aug. 4.

On the other hand, the Rangers are arguably having the greatest season in team history on the field, as they come out of the All-Star break with a 4 1/2-game lead in the AL West over the Anaheim Angels.

Offense has been the name of the game in Arlington for many years, and 2010 is no different. The Rangers are third in the AL with 453 runs scored and second in batting average (.278).

Led by MVP candidates Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero — who each rank in the top 11 in the AL in batting average, home runs and RBIs — the Rangers? offense attacks opposing pitchers with full force night after night.

But recently, the big talk down in Texas has been about a pitcher.

The Rangers acquired All-Star hurler Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners on July 9, giving the team its first bona fide ace since Nolan Ryan.

If the Rangers weren?t already a major threat to the powerhouse teams in the AL East, they?re now among the elites with Lee heading their rotation.

And as the Red Sox get set to host Texas at Fenway Park this weekend, they know they will have their hands full, especially when Lee pitches on Saturday.

Last time the Rangers came to Boston in April, the Red Sox took two of the three games in the series, with both wins coming in walk-off fashion.

But this time, as Joe Siegler from Rangerfans.com tells us, Red Sox fans should expect a full-throttle attack from the Rangers.

NESN.com: Considering both short- and long-term effects, was the Cliff Lee trade a good one for the Rangers organization?

Joe Siegler: In the short term, I think it’s an obvious answer. It helps us. I don’t think there’s a club that exists that wouldn’t want Cliff Lee for their team, especially in a stretch run. I mean, if we were the Pirates or the Orioles or something, it wouldn’t make sense, but heck yeah, Cliff Lee is great because of who Cliff Lee is and what he brings.  

As for long term, it’s harder to tell, as you never know how these things work out. We did import a good relief pitcher, and I expect most people figure he’s all we’ll have left next year (save for a few draft picks) for Cliff Lee (kind of like the Carlos Lee/Nelson Cruz trade the Rangers made with the Brewers a few years back). We’ll make a run at Lee, I’m sure (once our ownership gets worked out), but if he signs back here, I’ll be surprised. But the absolute best part of all this is that the Yankees didn’t get him (at least for now).

NESN.com: Julio Borbon has had his ups and downs this year. How has he evolved as a player since his call-up toward the end of 2009?

J.S.: I remember late last year hearing that he was going to be a great center fielder. In our park, you need a guy who is fast out there, or at least can get great reads on balls. Last year, he wasn’t so much a big power hitter that grabs your attention, but he did end last year with a .376 OBP. This year, his bat started off slow, but he’s come on lately, and still has some work to do. But his defense has improved greatly. I don’t think he’s an All-Star caliber player, but he does have speed and is not someone whose defense you worry about. So that’s a big improvement. 

NESN.com: Now that Justin Smoak has been traded, who will be the Rangers? first baseman of the future?

J.S.: Well, the easy answer is to say Chris Davis. This is actually an extension of your first question, because now that Smoak is gone, it’s definitely Chris Davis for now. Until Smoak was moved, we had kind of a two-headed monster with Smoak and Davis. Both were projected high-caliber players, with Smoak perhaps projecting a bit higher due to him being a switch-hitter (like Mark Teixeira). Davis however, is the better defender, so in an immediate sense, we’re probably better off with Chris Davis, as he’s a better defender and has some more major league experience. 

Davis did crash and burn bad last year, though, and wasn’t exactly hitting up a storm earlier this season. So I guess “of the future” comes down to whether Chris Davis ends up as one of those Four-A hitters. We went through that same thing recently with Nelson Cruz. The light finally came on last year, and he’s living up to it. If Chris Davis figures it out offensively, he’ll be the guy of the future as he’s an awesome defender, just needs more work on offense. We’ll see if his Triple-A tune-up this year did anything. If it’s not him, a guy in Triple-A named Mitch Moreland (currently playing right field) would likely be the choice, unless we brought in someone.

NESN.com: What do you think the problem was with Josh Hamilton in 2009, and how has he bounced back to become an MVP candidate in 2010?

I think a lot of 2009 was Josh thinking too much. Plus, he was hurt for a decent part of the season. A lot has been made locally about him constantly tinkering with his swing. We do have a new hitting coach here in 2010 for the first time since 1995, so it’s possible Clint Hurdle himself fixed Josh. Hard to tell, but the Rangers’ TV guys have talked a lot about how Josh has gotten rid of the toe tap in his swing, and since he did that, he’s taken off again.

NESN.com: Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler have each missed significant time in 2010, yet the Rangers are still in first place. Who is the one player that Texas simply cannot afford to lose?

J.S.: Since it’s hard to say just one guy, I’ll go for one offensive guy and one pitcher. I’d say offensively, Vlad Guerrero. I’ve always liked Vlad going back to his days in Montreal, and I’m glad he’s with us. I’m more glad he has bounced back, and isn’t just one of those longtime guys trying to hang on somewhere and underperforms. Vlad’s back. Losing him would be rough, as it would make Josh Hamilton somewhat vulnerable, and would take some of the swagger out of our offense. 

Cliff Lee aside, pitching-wise, we’d probably be a lot worse off if we lost Colby Lewis. Lewis has exceeded everyone’s expectations when he returned here in the offseason. I think a lot of people (myself included) thought, “Well OK, he sort of figured it out in Japan, but that’s Japan, and this is the MLB — will it translate?” It certainly has. As you pointed out, we’re in first place now, and that’s before Cliff Lee. I say Colby Lewis is our pitching star this season (although I like Tommy Hunter, too).

NESN.com: How important is this series against the Red Sox for Texas coming out of the All-Star break?

I think it’s important that we stay strong out of the gate. That it’s against the Red Sox isn’t so much important because it’s the “Red Sox.” It’s not like the two teams have a big rivalry as such. It’s more important for us to do well this series, as we need to hold and expand our lead. The Angels, while down this year, are still the team to beat, and I don’t think anyone can take them lightly. The Angels are playing the Mariners this first series, and Seattle has been a big disappointment. The Angels should handle them well, so we need to have a strong showing against the Red Sox to keep our division lead.

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