For the 15th time in their last 21 games, the Texas Rangers were victorious Thursday night, outlasting the Orioles to clinch the three-game series win (TEX 4, BAL 3). The two clubs played a wild back and forth game Tuesday night (BAL 12, TEX 11), then needed 12 innings to decide Wednesday's game (TEX 2, BAL 1).
This recent 15-6 hot streak has improved the Rangers to 32-28 with a plus-28 run differential on the season. They are still nine games behind the Astros in the AL West, but Texas is currently sitting in the second wild-card spot, percentage points ahead of the Red Sox. For a team that lost 95 games a year ago, the Rangers are pleasant surprise. Consider the preseason projections:
- Baseball Prospectus: 73 wins (2.1 percent postseason odds)
- FanGraphs: 71 wins (0.6 percent postseason odds)
- SportsLine: 72 wins (<1.0 percent postseason odds)
"I would have totally believed it," rookie manager Chris Woodward told reporters, including Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, earlier this week when asked if he would believed his team would be this successful. "Of course we'd have taken it. It's a great spot to be. I've really talked to our team: 'Let's embrace it. Where we finish, we finish.' I love it. I love that we're in that spot."
The Rangers are where they are because Mike Minor and Joey Gallo have been fantastic, because minor-league deal pickups Hunter Pence and Logan Forsythe have performed far better than anyone could've reasonably expected, and because veterans like Shin-Soo Choo, Lance Lynn, and Shawn Kelley have been rock solid. Ariel Jurado has been a pleasant surprise as well.
The season is a little more than one-third complete and, given their place in the standings, the Rangers have to be considered a postseason contender. They've played well enough for long enough to get everyone's attention. As good as they've been to date, the next four weeks will tell us more about this Rangers team. Look at the upcoming schedule:
- June 7-9 vs. Athletics (four games in three days)
- June 10-13 at Red Sox (four games)
- June 14-16 at Reds (three games)
- June 17-20 vs. Indians (four games)
- June 21-23 vs. White Sox (three games)
- June 25-27 at Tigers (three games)
- June 27-30 at Rays (three games)
- July 1-4 vs. Angels (four games)
- July 5-7 at Twins (three games)
That is 31 games in 31 days until the All-Star break, 18 of which are against no-doubt contenders, plus another six against Reds and White Sox teams that are no pushover. And then there's four games against the Fightin' Mike Trouts too. These next four weeks will give us a pretty good idea just how for real this Rangers team is.
Furthermore, the Rangers have to go through at least part of that 31-game stretch without Gallo, their best player and an early season MVP candidate. Gallo is on the injured list with an oblique strain and is tentatively expected back later this month. When, exactly? Hard to say. Obliques can be a tricky. It'll be at least a few more weeks though.
Keep in mind the Rangers are set to open a new ballpark, Globe Life Field, next season. You can be certain ownership and the front office would love to open that ballpark with a contending team that is coming off a postseason trip. It would be a fine way to send out Globe Life Park in Arlington and a nice way to open the new facility. It would be hard to fire up the fan base more.
Because of that, the Rangers could be aggressive prior to the July 31 trade deadline, and look to add pieces as soon as possible. The sooner they make trades, the longer those players help, after all. For what it's worth, the very plugged in Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News doesn't see that as likely. From Grant:
Only thing I am relatively certain of here is that they will not be aggressive buyers. They are not going to trade prospects for veteran pieces. That was not part of the plan going into the season. And, despite a nice start to the year, that is not part of the plan now. It would represent a drastic deviation from the stated goal, which is to build a long-term, sustainable contender again. To chase the second wild-card spot, which is really their only viable playoff option, would mean going all in to potentially play one road game. Does that make sense?
And, it would be one thing if it didn't mean thinning out a farm system that is just starting to percolate again, but it would be a double-edged dagger: Most likely not getting beyond one game of postseason time and subverting the progress toward the future. It's just not prudent.
Grant believes the Rangers could reverse course and sell veterans at the trade deadline should they stumble the next few weeks. Minor would have several suitors. Pence and Forsythe might be able to bring back a prospect, ditto Kelley and Asdrubal Cabrera. I know this much: The more the Rangers win, the more tempting it will be to go for it. It's possible to make upgrades at the deadline without giving up the farm. Look at the recent Jay Bruce trade, for example.
For now, the Rangers are a surprise contender and fun baseball story. They are three days and three games into a 21 games in 20 days stretch that will end June 24. It is a brutal stretch of schedule, and many of those games will be against teams Texas is trying to beat out for a wild-card spot. These next few weeks are a chance to create separation in the standings. It's also a chance to lose a lot of ground in a hurry. This could prove to be the most important stretch of the Rangers' season.