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Meanwhile in Atlanta ...
record streak of division titles was on life support--at week's end, despite a
9--2 run, they were 12 games out of first in the NL East--and the pitching
staff was having its worst season since 1977. Here are the returning Atlanta
pitchers who have struggled the most without Leo Mazzone.
GARY MATTHEWS JR.
Surprise Spark For Texas
Former All-Star outfielder Gary Matthews was an instant success in the majors, becoming the 1973 NL Rookie of the Year with the Giants. His son Gary Jr. took a more circuitous route to stardom. After stints with eight teams in seven years--during which he batted .249--the Rangers centerfielder, in his first season as an every-day player, has suddenly become one of the league's top hitters. "Everyone knows how talented he is: That's why so many teams have taken a chance on him," says Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. "[But] he wasn't making the mental commitment to succeed. Last off-season he finally decided to work hard."
In January, Matthews made three three-day trips to Arlington, Texas, from his off-season home in Houston for private sessions with Jaramillo at Ameriquest Field. "I did worry that time was running out in my career," says Matthews, 31. "I needed to do something about it." Jaramillo focused on making the 6'3" switch-hitter's swing more consistent, and Matthews's hard work paid off: At week's end, after going 1 for 1 in his first All-Star Game, Matthews was fifth in the American League in batting (.329), fourth in doubles (30) and seventh in extra-base hits (44). What's more, he had played Gold Glove defense; on July 1 he made arguably the most spectacular play of the season--a running, leaping catch in which he reached over the centerfield wall to rob the Astros' Mike Lamb of a home run.
With Matthews in the leadoff spot, the Rangers are second in the AL West, a game behind the A's. Says Jaramillo, whose hitters were on pace to break the major league team record for doubles in a season, "He makes this lineup go."
? Check out John Donovan's Power Rankings at SI.com/baseball.