Battle-tested Rangers end first half atop AL

Big years from Desmond, Hamels and Mazara propel well-rounded roster

Battle-tested Rangers end first half atop AL

ARLINGTON -- No more wondering how the Rangers will respond from their collapse against the Blue Jays in the American League Division Series last season.

The Rangers appear to be doing just fine, even if they did hit a bad stretch at the end. The Rangers will still spend the All-Star break in sole possession of first place in the American League West for the sixth time in club history and first time since 2012. Their 5 1/2-game lead over the Astros is also their largest lead ever at the All-Star break. Their 54-36 record is the best in the league and tied for third-best in the Majors.

It hasn't been easy, given the injuries to the starting rotation and the adjustments needed in a bullpen that has carried a heavy workload. But the Rangers' clubhouse, with a nice mix of veterans with experience and young players with energy, is brimming with confidence after what happened in the first half.

"It was a good first half," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "Obviously we are in first place, and we won over 50 games. There is always space for improvement, there was a little stretch where we didn't play well, but we understand there are going to be highs and lows. We are going to rest for a couple of days and then come back in the second half and finish strong."

The Rangers did it without any particular area of the team standing out, manager Jeff Banister said.

"It's hard to parcel out one individual area," Banister said. "We played better defense than last year, our baserunning has had some improvement, our situational hitting was so much better. We had a run of quality starts from our rotation that was unmatched, and we have a relief core that, when you look at winning circumstances, they have been pretty exceptional."

More than anything, the Rangers hit well with runners in scoring position. They are hitting .292 in those situations, which right now is tied for the second highest for one season in club history. Defensively, they are on pace to finish with fewer than 100 errors for only the fourth time in club history. Their rotation was solid when healthy, and the back end of the bullpen flourished once Sam Dyson took over as closer and rookie Matt Bush settled in as the primary right-handed setup reliever.

Dyson gets the save

Shawn Tolleson, so good as the closer in 2015, struggled to start this season, and Keone Kela had to undergo surgery, requiring a shuffling of the bullpen. The rotation required the same in mid-June when Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland all ended up on the disabled list. The Rangers are still waiting for first baseman Mitch Moreland and designated hitter Prince Fielder to get hot for an extended period of time.

The Rangers can play exciting, tension-filled baseball games night after night, and thrive in that intense environment. They were 19-7 in one-run games, but almost every night went down to the final out. There were 19 games decided in the final at-bat and 26 come-from-behind wins. They had 33 come-from-behind wins all of last season.

"When you think about being tested in winning situations, we have been tested a lot," Banister said. "So we have that experience going in our favor."

Banister on 4-3 win over O's

The unanimous opinion in the clubhouse is center fielder Ian Desmond. After seven years as a National League shortstop, Desmond made a successful transition to the outfield and was a force with his speed and power at the top of the Rangers' lineup.

Desmond's go-ahead homer

A case could be made for Dyson based on his work as closer, and Lewis was outstanding until he got hurt. But Cole Hamels was there from the beginning to the end and was a deserving selection to the AL All-Star team.

Hamels' scoreless start

Bush played a big role in the Rangers' bullpen, but outfielder Nomar Mazara is the clear winner here. After all, he was the AL Rookie of the Month for both April and May.

Statcast: Mazara's 491-ft. homer

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.