It was only a matter of time before the Texas Rangers started playing like playoff contenders. They had started the season 13-20, which was good for last place in the AL West, and just came off a tough series loss to the Seattle Mariners. They have since taken advantage of a weaker schedule, taking three of four from the San Diego Padres and sweeping both the Athletics and Phillies at home.
Their current nine-game winning streak has been enough to sneak past the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for second in the division, and the Rangers can vault themselves into the race for the top of the division with two series against Houston in June. Here are three things that have put the Rangers back into playoff contention.
Texas has had a recent history of having too many injuries. That was the main reason why the 2014 season was so unsuccessful, and the injury bug came back in April. Only Yu Darvish and Martin Perez have gone through the entire season without a DL stint, and Cole Hamels has not pitched since April 26.
Darvish has taken over as the obvious ace. After two shaky starts in his first four outings, he has now thrown a quality start in five straight games. His seven quality starts are tied for second most in the MLB, and he is one of only seven qualified pitchers with a Batting Average Against below .200.
While Darvish figures to be the only Texas pitcher with a realistic chance at the Cy Young Award, he has certainly gotten plenty of help from the rest of the rotation in May. Perez had recently suffered four straight losses after just seven runs of support during those starts. He finally got rewarded for his recent improvements on the mound during the home stand. He took a no-decision on May 11 after allowing just two runs against Oakland, but the Rangers capped off a ninth-inning rally following a walk-off three-run home run by Mike Napoli. He then picked up his first win since April 9 on Thursday, holding the Phillies to just two runs while the offense scored all eight of their runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
A.J. Griffin and Andrew Cashner have also looked great in May. Griffin has yet to take a loss this season, and he allowed just one earned run in three combined starts before allowing four in a no-decision on May 14. His most impressive start came in Petco Park on May 9, when he threw his second career complete game shutout, and first with Texas, on just four hits. Cashner, meanwhile, needed seven starts to pick up his first win of the season despite not allowing more than three earned runs in any of his seven starts and two in his last six. He has found a way to minimize opposing offenses at hitter-friendly Globe Life Park despite just 10 strikeouts and 43 fly balls in four home starts. His 2.45 ERA would be the lowest ERA for a Rangers pitcher if he were qualified, which he should be by the end of the month.
Pitching has never been the main reason why the Rangers struggled early, but it has certainly helped the team rebound in May. A healthy Hamels could help the rotation return to elite status.
A changed outfield
It does not hurt to have home run hitters, but the Rangers apparently sacrificed batting average for long balls to begin the season. That is not the best way to win games.
Most of the blame for poor batting can be directed toward the infield, namely Mike Napoli, Joey Gallo, and Rougned Odor, all of whom are at or below the Mendoza Line. One has to wonder, however, if the outfield is bound for some changes following Texas’s recent sweep of the Phillies.
Nomar Mazara is hitting .265 and leads the team in RBIs, but he has been a nightmare against left-handed pitchers, hitting .143 and getting just four singles and two RBIs. In fact, he has gone 101 at-bats without an extra base hit against lefties.
Shin-Soo Choo has been the best all-around hitter for outfielders, but he is used mostly as the team’s DH. Carlos Gomez will likely not return until June with a hamstring injury, and he has had issues keeping his batting average at ideal levels. Hitting .246 in 2017 is a massive improvement from his awful tenure in Houston, but the Rangers are likely looking for better hitting in order to return to the playoffs.
In a surprising turn of events, Jared Hoying and Delino DeShields look like the best options in the outfield. Both are solid baserunners and excellent outfielders, but they gave the Rangers an offensive jolt this week. On May 17, each player went 4-4 in a rout over Philadelphia. It was the second time that a team’s eighth and ninth hitters went 4-4 in the same game since 1900 (the other occasion being in 2004). Hoying hit his first MLB home run and fell a triple short of the cycle, and three of DeShields’ hits never left the infield, and two of them were on bunts. Hoying also made two leaping catches in deep center field during the two recent wins.
With few other reliable options in the outfield, Hoying and DeShields may remain in the lineup for a longer period of time. Their recent offensive (and defensive) outbursts are not necessarily a sign of things to come, but it is certainly welcome for a roster than has lived and died by the home run.
Matt Bush finally making an impact in the MLB
Is Matt Bush a bust? Yes, especially for the San Diego Padres. Any team who could have taken Justin Verlander in 2004 and ends up with a player who never even reached the MLB made a horrible mistake. Bush even went to jail and his career seemed to be in limbo.
Fast forward to 2017 and he is now one of the most untouchable closers in the league. Granted, it took 13 years to reach this point, and most first overall picks are not considered as projected closers, but it certainly helps Bush knowing that he can finally be a reliable player in the big leagues.
He only has four saves on the season, but three of those have come in consecutive appearances in May. He has not allowed an earned run since April 9, which was during the first week of the season, and he has yet to allow a run to score in May, a span of seven appearances and 6.2 innings. In his 12 outings since April 9, his ERA has fallen from 4.91 to 1.17. Sam Dyson, the former closer for the Rangers, still has not gotten his ERA below 10.00 after as bad of a start as a pitcher could have.
Bush even got to return to Petco Park last week, which was a big deal considering he is from San Diego and the Padres drafted him. While he did not pitch in Petco, he did notch a save against the Padres in Arlington during the second half of the home-and-home series.
No matter how well Bush does, he will never shake off the fact that he was a bad choice over Verlander. At least he is putting together a respectable career, even if it required a reroute.
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