Through the first two months of the season, 2012 looked like it would be Josh Hamilton's year.
In the prime of his career at the age of 31, Hamilton was on pace to win his second MVP award before entering free agency and a possible $200 million plus payday. His off-field indiscretions, if not completely in the past, were no longer dragging him down.
Hamilton was becoming the face of the game. And with a once-in-a-generation talent carrying them, the Rangers looked like the best team in baseball.
Two months later, that narrative has been completely derailed. And while Hamilton tries to regain his swing after a miserable June and July, an impossibly fresh-faced 20-year old on the LA Angels has emerged as a star.
Mike Trout, an uber-athletic 6'1 210 OF who combines blinding speed with average and power at the plate, is a true five-tool player. He's one of the only players in baseball who can match Hamilton's physical gifts.
The difference? He's younger, more durable and doesn't seem to have any off-the-field issues.
In Hamilton's MVP season in 2010, he hit .359/.411/.633 as a 29-year old. Through 80 games in 2012, Trout is hitting .351/.408/.600.
He has the chance to be the best best player in baseball over the next decade, and if that isn't scary enough, LA has the best player of the last decade batting two spots behind him. Albert Pujols, the $240 million dollar man, has bounced back from an early-season slump to hit .284/.350/.506 in 2012.
Against the rest of the Angels lineup, Derek Holland looked like the dominant front of the rotation starter he could one day be on Tuesday. Against Pujols and Trout, he looked like the inconsistent young lefthander he still is, as LA's two stars were more than enough to carry them to a 6-2 victory.
Through the first 5 and 2/3 innings, Holland allowed only three hits: a solo HR from Pujols in the fourth, a two-run HR from Trout in the sixth and another solo shot from Pujols in the sixth
And while LA's offensive stars shined on Tuesday, the Rangers offense continued to slump. Jered Weaver had a perfect game going through the first 5 and 2/3 innings, as Texas finished the month of July hitting .190 with runners in scoring position.
There was no better example of the Rangers struggles all month than the bottom of the sixth inning. With two men on and no outs and the top of the lineup at the plate, Ian Kinsler popped up while Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre grounded out.
If there was a bright spot for Texas, it was the play of Hamilton, who made solid contact despite going 1-4 on the night.
But even though Hamilton has the plate discipline of a 20-year old rookie, the numbers indicate that he can't continue hitting this poorly over the last two months of the season. And even though Trout looks like the clear front-runner for the 2012 MVP award, the numbers suggest no 20-year old rookie can continue to hit this well over an entire season.
With their loss on Tuesday, the Rangers are now only 3 games in front of the Angels in the suddenly competitive AL West race. And if the trend-lines for both Hamilton and Trout don't reverse themselves, that deficit could be a lot smaller by the end of the week.