BCB: The Rangers enter this brief two-game series as winners of 13 of their last 14 to vault into first place in the AL West. What's the key to this hot streak?
LSB: I don't know that there has been one key to this stretch -- to win 13 of 14, you have to really be hitting on all cylinders, and that's what the Rangers have been doing. Ron Washington called a team meeting after a sweep in Cleveland. The Rangers had been shutout in three of their last four games and looked lifeless. I tweeted I was ready to throw in the towel on this team. But after that sweep, they've been on fire, with the pitching -- especially the starting pitching -- being terrific (3 runs or fewer allowed in 11 of the 14 games), the lineup being solid, and the defense being defense-y. This is just a team that has been playing really well.
BCB: Adrian Beltre leads all of baseball with 152 hits this season and has 25 home runs for the eighth time in ten seasons. Is he the most valuable Ranger, and if so should he be a candidate for AL MVP?
LSB: Although you could make a case for Yu Darvish or Derek Holland as team MVP, I think Beltre is the pretty easy choice. He's having his third straight remarkable season for Texas, he plays through injuries, he's fun to watch, and everyone praises him for his influence and leadership in the clubhouse. His career arc has been fascinating to watch...written off as a disappointment who had a fluke season, only to have his best multi-year stretch of play kick off in his 30s. That said, I don't think you can make a legitimate case for him as league MVP...Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are (once again) head and shoulders over everyone else.
BCB: At 38 years old Joe Nathan is one of the game's best closers, having made his sixth All Star team and racking up 35 saves in Texas' first 119 games. Is he showing any signs of slowing down as he gets older?
LSB: Nathan is an interesting case...early in the season, his stuff was off, and while he was getting saves, he looked shaky getting them. I expressed some concern about whether he could maintain his success given that his fastball was down and his slider wasn't as sharp. But he's improved as the season has gone on, and now, he looks as good as just about any reliever in the league. He will probably void his option and become a free agent this offseason, and the Rangers will probably let him go and let Joakim Soria take his place, but he has been a terrific weapon for the Rangers the last two years.
BCB: Does Alex Rios slot right into the gap in the lineup created by Nelson Cruz's suspension? If not, is there anything else the Rangers can do to try to replace that production?
LSB: Yeah, Rios basically replaces Cruz. They are different players -- Rios has a little more speed and is probably better defensively, while Cruz has more power, but they're roughly equal in terms of overall value. The problem is that, even with Cruz, the Rangers still needed another bat -- they are effectively using a collection of bench players as their DH. The team hopes that Lance Berkman will be ready to return sometime this weekend, and if he can return and be anywhere near his old self, he'll be a huge help.
BCB: As of this morning Baseball Prospectus gives the Rangers a 63.7% chance of winning the West and an 88.6% chance of making the playoffs. Would you say their chances are better or worse than that?
LSB: That sounds about right to me.
Thanks again to Adam for taking the time, and check out Lone Star Ball for more on the Rangers!