As a baseball rule of thumb, bad teams generally don’t have good bullpens, and good teams usually do.
Anyone looking to bend that rule can look at the way the Texas Rangers have feasted on lousy relievers during their recent hot stretch, and can zero in on their game Wednesday night at Rangers Ballpark.
Milwaukee’s bullpen was in a giving mood, and the Rangers took all they could get.
Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler drove in two runs apiece, and each had a hand in the walk-fueled go-ahead rally as the Rangers snuck past the Brewers for a 5-4 victory and a split of the two-game series.
Matt Garza had his worst and shortest start since joining the Rangers, allowing four runs in only 52/3 innings. Juan Francisco produced each run on homers in the second and fourth innings, but Garza allowed eight hits, walked two and hit another.
He was bailed out by 31/3 scoreless innings by four Rangers relievers, and a wild seventh inning by the Brewers’ bullpen helped keep the Rangers atop the American League West.
“We’re a smart team,” Kinsler said. “We’re able to make adjustments throughout the game and put ourselves in good situations late in games. It would be nice if we were able to do that a little earlier, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way.”
The Rangers entered the bottom of the seventh down 4-2, having been shut down the previous three innings by Brewers starter Tyler Thornburg. But he was lifted for Michael Gonzalez, who walked pinch hitter Craig Gentry and Jurickson Profar to start the frame.
John Axford replaced Gonzalez to face pinch hitter Jeff Baker, who took four straight balls to load the bases. After Leonys Martin struck out, Andrus ripped a single to left to plate Gentry.
Blake Badenhop received the next chance to shut down the inning, but he fell behind Kinsler 2-0 before the second baseman lined another single to left to score Profar and Baker.
That was enough for the Rangers, who had already received 11/3 scoreless innings from Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor (4-2). Tanner Scheppers breezed through the eighth, and Joe Nathan worked a 1-2-3 ninth to give the Rangers nine wins in their past 10 games.
“We play all nine innings,” Kinsler said. “The ideal situation is you’d like to score every inning, you’d like to score 12 runs every game, but that’s not realistic. We feel like we have an opportunity to score every inning with our lineup. Lately that’s just the way it’s been working out.”
The Rangers’ bullpen lowered it’s ERA to 2.98 and has posted scoreless games in 21 of its past 32. They continue to lead the majors with the fewest blown saves (six) and the highest save percentage (86.7).
The offense, meanwhile, has won four times in the past eight days by rallying against the lesser bullpens of Anaheim, Houston and Milwaukee. The Rangers have turned close games into routs in two others.
Garza failed to pitch into the seventh inning for the first time with the Rangers, and he has been trailing at the time he has left the game in three of his five starts. On Wednesday, he failed to hold a lead the two times the Rangers provided him with one.
He pitched around two singles in the first, thanks to the first of two outfield assists at third base by center fielder Leonys Martin, and the Rangers struck for a two-out first-inning run after a double by Ian Kinsler and a single by Adrian Beltre.
Francisco, though, erased the Brewers’ deficit with an opposite-field solo blast with one out in the second.
The Rangers turned a Scooter Gennett error to start the third into a run as Andrus singled home David Murphy for a 2-1 edge. Garza, though, hit Aramis Ramirez to start the fourth and allowed a single to the next hitter, Carlos Gomez, before Francisco lined a three-run shot into the first row in right field.
“It is what it is, but I’m just happy we pulled it out,” Garza said. “It really doesn’t matter because we got the W. Huge win. We’re trying to get to October. It’s what we need tonight.”
The Brewers, though, eventually had to rely on their bullpen, which had narrowly escaped the eighth inning Tuesday night. The Rangers didn’t waste another crack at opponent’s shaky relief corps Wednesday.