Back in March at Texas Rangers spring training out in Surprise, Arizona I asked team president Nolan Ryan his expectations this season for Josh Hamilton. Is the real Josh the player who had 54 RBI by June 1 in 2008 or the player who hit only 10 homers between numerous injuries in 2009?
"Somewhere in between," Ryan said. "We hope Josh can stay healthy. If he does we're confident he can be a very productive and important bat in our lineup. Now, I'm not saying I expect him to tear it up like he did in 2008 because obviously that's unrealistic."
Or is it?
Don't look now, but Hamilton is better than he was in 2008. Better than ever.
On June 1 Hamilton deleted the toe-touch timing mechanism from his swing. He moved his hands closer to his body. He began - at the urging of hitting coach Clint Hurdle - treating pre-game batting practice as a learning session rather than a show-off session.
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The result? Hamilton is the hottest hitter in baseball, on pace for the best month in team history. Not surprisingly the Rangers have won eight in a row, have the biggest division lead in all of baseball and, at 41-28, are off to the second-best start in team history.
Sunday in Houston the Astros inexplicably walked Vladimir Guerrero to pitch to Hamilton in the 10th. He responded with a soft single to right - his fifth hit of the day - for a 5-4 win. The victory capped one of the best road trips in club history. After Rich Harden allowed four homers to Milwaukee in the opener the Rangers didn't lose, going 8-1.
Considering that Nelson Cruz returns Tuesday and that this week the Rangers host the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates and then the Astros, this 8-game winning streak could easily reach 10, 12, even 14 by Sunday.
Especially if Hamilton stays hot.