There was a point where the Rangers' season could have turned left instead of right, back when they were 7-9 and Josh Hamilton was just three days away from pulling the muscle in his side that sent him to the DL for the first time this season.
Many believe the turning point came the night of April 25 in Baltimore, when Scott Feldman stepped into the rotation for the first time.
Slated to bullpen duty early, Feldman that night limited the Orioles to one run in five innings during Texas' 6-5 victory. Over the next five weeks, the Rangers went 23-10 and built a season-high 5 1/2-game lead in the AL West.
That cushion became especially important because the Rangers, ever pitching-challenged, currently have two starting pitchers (Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison) and one key reliever (Joaquin Benoit) on the disabled list. They also lost starter Vicente Padilla and reliever Frank Francisco to the DL earlier this year -- Francisco twice.
As for the currently sidelined starters, neither McCarthy nor Harrison is expected back before late July.
Feldman in particular has been outstanding. Not only is he 7-2 with a 3.91 ERA over 17 games -- 14 starts -- but he's holding opponents to a .230 batting average.
"He's done a great job," All-Star third baseman Michael Young says. "He competes. He gets after it. He pounds the strike zone. He makes big pitches in big situations.
"When you have pitching and defense, it's a lot of fun."
Texas pitchers had compiled a 3.50 ERA over 22 games into Tuesday night's since June 11, fourth-lowest in the AL during that span. Meantime, largely behind Frank Francisco and C.J. Wilson, the bullpen's 79.3 percent saves conversion rate (23 saves in 29 opportunities) was the best in the AL and second-best in the majors this season.
In what could be a preview of coming attractions over the next few seasons for the Rangers, in sweeping Tampa Bay over the weekend, each of the three victories was obtained by a Rangers draft pick: Hunter (a supplemental first-round pick in 2007), Holland (25th round in 2006) and Feldman (30th round 2003).
The last time Texas has seen its own draft picks obtain victories over three consecutive starts? Back in 1997, when Darren Oliver (third round in 1988) beat Oakland and Bobby Witt (first round in 1985) and Rick Helling (first round in 1992) beat the Angels.
Likes: Elvis Andrus at shortstop in Texas. Slick. ... Roy Halladay in Toronto. I hope the Blue Jays don't trade him. He belongs in Toronto, and Blue Jays fans deserve a Halladay-led winner. ... Our Fourth of July cul-de--sac barbecue over the weekend. ... Beautiful Puget Sound. ... The All-Star Game in St. Louis. Yeah, it'll be muggy, but the baseball will be great and the atmosphere will match. ... Johnny Depp on David Letterman a couple of weeks ago (just caught up to it on TiVo).
Dislikes: Coverage of Michael Jackson's Memorial Service on Tuesday. Sad story, yes. But give me a break. The guy wasn't a saint, and the fawning media completely glossed over the little matter of that $20 million settlement regarding the boy he was accused of molesting.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Your mind's a machine
"It's deadly and dull
"It's never been still and its will
"Has never been free"
-- Wilco, Less Than You Think