Now that the season has reached the halfway point, let's hand out a few awards for the Texas Rangers. Give us your winners in the comment section. Here goes:
First-half MVP (offense): Nelson Cruz
While a possible 50-game suspension looms for Cruz (though no one knows if or when that might happen), the outfielder has provided power and production at the plate. He’s got 20 homers – one of only five AL players to hit at least that many -- and 61 RBIs (fifth-most in the AL). He’s hitting .271 and has stayed healthy, playing in 79 games. Cruz played in a career-high number of games in 2012 but didn’t have the searing hot streaks we’re used to seeing. He’s been hot at times already this season, carrying this team when the hits haven’t come with consistency.
Other candidates: Adrian Beltre
First-half MVP (pitching): Joe Nathan
Sure, he may make things uncomfortable by putting a man or two on in a one-run game, but he’s nearly as automatic as they come. He’s had 27 saves in 28 opportunities and will certainly be in the All-Star Game. Nathan has a 1.51 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 10 walks. But most important, his teammates have supreme confidence that when he gets the ball, the game is over. Don’t discount the importance of that come September and October.
Other candidates: Yu Darvish
The reliever came into spring training in good position to get a spot in the bullpen, though nothing was guaranteed. He performed well in Arizona, but it wasn’t clear where he’d fit into the relief hierarchy with other veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. But Scheppers started the season so well that he quickly established himself as the primary eighth-inning option, getting the game to Nathan in winning situations. Scheppers has an ERA under 2.00 in more than 40 innings pitched. He’s one of the leaders in the AL in appearances and has done the job for a bullpen that has turned into a strength for this team.
Needs improvement: Elvis Andrus
I know some of you will put David Murphy here, but the reality is that Murphy is a “regular” for the first time this season. Andrus signed a long-term contract before the season and hasn’t produced as he would have liked at the plate. He’s batting .243, which puts him near the bottom of the list of shortstops in the AL. I predict Andrus will get it in gear in the second half, but the No. 2 hitter has just 11 extra-base hits in the first half, which is disappointing so far this season.
Most indispensable player: Adrian Beltre
A case could be made for Ian Kinsler after the leadoff hitter’s absence coincided with the club’s roughest offensive stretch, but I’m taking Beltre. He’s one of the top defensive third basemen in the game, a consistent offensive producer and a leader. There was a visible example of his leadership Sunday as Beltre was caught on camera talking to Engel Beltre and Leonys Martin about making the right defensive play in a key situation. Beltre has the respect of the room and leads by example, coming to play at a high level every day.
Best individual performance:
Darvish’s near-perfect game
We have to go back to the second game of the season, but Darvish’s near-perfect game against the Astros in April was the best individual performance of the first half. Darvish needed one more out but gave up a hit to No. 9 batter Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth, ending the perfect game and the no-hitter. Darvish was taken out of the game at that point and finished with 8 2/3 shutout innings with 14 strikeouts. It was an incredible way to kick off his season.
Biggest win: June 17 vs. Oakland
The Rangers had lost six straight games and had fallen behind the Oakland in the AL West as the A’s came to Arlington. The Rangers took a 3-0 lead into the fourth before the A’s scored six runs off Nick Tepesch, ending his night early. Down by three, the Rangers clawed back and held on for an 8-7 win that ended the skid and began a run that allowed them to end June with a 10-3 push and finish the month at .500.
Other candidate: June 20 vs. Oakland as the Rangers won 4-3, ending the game on a play at the plate after a good throw from center from Craig Gentry to cutoff man Elvis Andrus, who got the ball to catcher A.J. Pierzynski in time to make the tag. Nathan jumped up and pumped his fist as the Rangers took three out of four in the series.
Best story of the first half: Neal Cotts
The fact that Cotts is even pitching this season is improbable, considering he had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and four surgeries on his hip since 2010. He gave pitching lessons in Illinois and was just hoping for another chance. In 2012, Cotts was one of the candidates to be the final lefty in the Rangers bullpen before a late-spring injury cinched the job for Robbie Ross. Cotts didn’t give up, kept pitching and is 4-0 with a 0.40 ERA in 22 2/3 innings. The lefty is actually better against righties this season. They are hitting just .105 against him.
Other candidate: Jeff Baker