Before the weekend got too far away from us (and while I've got a few quick moments from Big 12 Media Day near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport), I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the weekend. So here goes:
* I saw a Rangers team that played like they were the top team in the division. Clearly, they aren't intimidated by the Angels and their history of success. Cliff Lee pitched like an ace should in the first game, C.J. Wilson was outstanding in the second game and, after dropping the third game, the Rangers showed some grit to bounce back and win the series. You win championships by stepping on the throttle when you have the opportunity. Texas added two games to its lead this weekend and did so by winning close games. That's what true contenders do.
* Josh Hamilton is playing at an incredible level. No, I don't think he'll hit over .400 for the rest of the season. But there's no reason to think, barring injury, that he can't continue to produce at an AL MVP level. Click here for some thoughts on the AL MVP race, which appears to be a two-man race between Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera. What I liked about Hamilton is that he came to play this weekend in a big series. That's what MVP's do. But he didn't just have a great four-game set at the plate. He was solid in the field as well. Hamilton's catch in the 9th on Friday off Bobby Abreu's bat helped the Rangers get that victory and set the tone for the weekend. His speed on the bases turned a ground ball through the infield into a triple. He's doing things all over the field for this team.
* Michael Young quietly keeps doing his thing, too. He hasn't played in a postseason game and clearly is focused on getting there. It seemed that every hit he had this weekend either put his team in front or got a key inning going. That's what leaders do. You can bet that Young will help keep this team grounded as the A's come to town. Oakland is winning games and sits just a 1/2 game behind the Angels in the AL West going into tonight's action.
* Tommy Hunter doesn't get flustered. It seems that every time an opponent cracks the door toward a big inning, he slams it shut again. He's 8-0, which is remarkable, and takes advantage of the runs his team scores for him. He didn't throw many pitches on Sunday, meaning he should be in good shape if the club decides to throw him on Friday to make room for another starter should they change on throwing Scott Feldman in Anaheim this weekend. Manager Ron Washington said the club is sticking with Feldman, but could a good Rich Harden rehab start tonight in Oklahoma City change their minds?
* Something tells me we're going to start seeing a better Chris Davis. He played well against the Angels and squared up balls against lefties and righties. He's always provided an outstanding glove, but if they can just get some key hits from him, it would be a huge boost to the bottom of the order. I see a guy gaining confidence. The key will be whether he can keep the momentum going and get some consistency, but I think he's showing steady improvement.
* I know some of you remember that the Rangers dropped games late in the first half after winning some big series. No doubt, that's true. But that was a tired group limping toward the unofficial halfway point. This team seems energized. And I think the off day comes at a good time (and not just because Josh Hamilton can celebrate his wife's birthday with her). Guys can get a quick breather before key series against Oakland at home and Los Angeles on the road. This team must stay focused and I think they will.
* Don't discount what the last few weeks has done for closer Neftali Feliz. He was thrust into the role after the first week of the season and has had a chance to pitch in front of big crowds -- at Fenway Park and in Arlington -- in close games and found a way to get it done. Yes, he can make things shaky at times. But the closer's job is to shut the door and preserve the win. He's doing that. How could he not gain confidence from coming in for the final two outs of Cliff Lee's start on Friday. Washington showed tremendous faith in Feliz and Feliz rewarded him. That could come in very handy as the games get even more important in the next two months.
* I can't tell you how many players (and front office folks, of course) commented on the large crowds at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this weekend. It really does make a difference for players to run out and see 46,000-plus out there as opposed to a sprinkling of 16,000. And it wasn't just the numbers of fans, either. They were loud. Several players said they couldn't remember it being louder at the park since they've played there. Frankly, I couldn't either. It was fun to hear the "Beat LA" chants on Friday and Saturday.
* Vladimir Guerrero has struggled since the break. I don't know if he's just a little slow to pitches that he was jumping on earlier in the year. But it will be interesting to see how he does in the next few weeks. The guy is way too good of a hitter to not get going again. The rest of the offense helped him out last weekend. That includes Nelson Cruz, who after a slow start returning from the DL, is batting .447 with two homers and 13 RBIs. More on him on the blog tomorrow.
* The pitching staff in general can't be understated. Even with Feldman's inconsistencies, this team seems stacked in the rotation and in the bullpen. If this club were to go with a 3-man rotation for the playoffs, it's tough to decide who is the odd-man out. When has that been the case in Texas?
There's plenty more to discuss on this series, but what were your thoughts? Did you go to any of the games? What did you think?
BTW, I do want to point you to some other folks that have done the same thing. T.R. Sullivan shares some of his thoughts on his blog here. So does Evan Grant over at DMN. I would also recommend checking in with the boys at the FWST on Foul Territory and with Adam Morris at Lone Star Ball.