Roll of the dice pays off for Rangers

Michael Rushton, MLB Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One player rose from the depths of drug addiction that threatened to end a career before it got started. The other player was out to prove a Hall of Fame-worthy career wasn't over just yet.

One drives the ball record-shattering distances, the other has never seen a pitch he didn't like to swing at.

Both have found a home together.

Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero have formed an explosive duo in Texas that could net one of them a Most Valuable Player award and get the Rangers into the postseason for the first time since 1999.

Hamilton's story is well known by now. The top overall pick of the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was suspended in the minor leagues for violating the league's drug policy, and it was unknown if the talented but troubled player would ever conquer his demons and reach the pros.

Josh Hamilton owns baseball's longest hitting streak this year at 23 straight games heading into Friday.
Given a second chance through the Rule 5 draft, Hamilton finally reached the majors in 2007 and after an outstanding rookie season, was traded by the Cincinnati Reds to the Rangers, who took a chance that the outfielder could stay healthy and productive despite a slim track record

A return on the investment in Hamilton was quick. In 2008, he led the American League with 130 RBI and put on a jaw-dropping show at the Home Run Derby that thrust him into the positive spotlight for once. But multiple injuries slowed the 29-year-old down the following season, and many wondered if the abuse Hamilton's body had taken due to his past lifestyle may now be impacting his future career.

Those concerns have been silenced for now, as Hamilton has put the pedal to the metal in 2010 and owns baseball's longest hitting streak this year at 23 straight games heading into Friday. The left-handed slugger is batting .457 over his tear -- and .343 on the season -- with nine homers and 29 RBI. His 49 hits in June were a Rangers' single-month record and helped Texas grab a 4 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.

While staying healthy has certainly helped Hamilton, don't count out the impact of having Guerrero batting alongside him in the cleanup spot. The 35-year-old is hitting .339 this season, his 15th in the majors, with 18 homers, 68 RBI, and a ton of protecting for Hamilton.

The performance has come after Guerrero was limited to 15 homers, 50 RBI and 100 games due to injury with the Angels in 2009, a season that led to Los Angeles' decision to let one of its top players leave as a free agent.

Though the risk was small -- Guerrero signed just a one-year deal with the Rangers that contains a 2011 mutual option -- Texas took a chance on the career .322 hitter, owner of 425 home runs, nearly 1,400 RBI and a 2004 AL MVP award won with the Angels.

"I honestly can't believe the Angels let him go," Hamilton said after a 6-4 win over the Angels on Wednesday that featured two Guerrero homers versus his former team. "The guy's had a great year. He's fun to watch, he's an exciting player, he's a a great guy, he's good for our team, clubhouse, chemistry, everything. He just fits."

Hamilton and Guerrero have paced an offense that ranks second in the majors with a .283 batting average and third with 412 runs. They have also helped make up for a pitching staff that is 11th with a collective 3.94 earned run average.

Pitching has been the club's downfall over the last few years, and the franchise's filing of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in May will limit how much payroll the Rangers can take on before the trade deadline. But with Guerrero and Hamilton, as well as solid contributions from Michael Young, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, the Rangers might not need to target a high-priced available ace like Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt.

Texas has the talent right now to contend for the AL West title, but it will need to add pitching if it wants to make a serious postseason run. That's out of Hamilton and Guerrero's hands as all they can do is keeping putting up impressive offensive numbers.

Unlike the duo's status prior to 2010, there is little doubt now that they can deliver the goods.

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