The second half is off to a good start for the Texas Rangers. Good starting pitching. Excellent relief pitching. Great defense. And timely hitting.
All of it was on display Friday night in the Rangers’ 5-3 win over the Royals.
On the first night of the second half, the Rangers moved up in the wild card standings, two games from the two spots, a half game behind the Royals, who they play two more times this weekend.
The Rangers don’t have to look like the ’27 Yankees (or, for you kids, the ’17 Astros) to stay in the wild card hunt the final three months of the season. In fact, with a strong start to the second half, the Rangers could quickly become one of the teams to beat for a wild card spot.
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If they keep playing like they did Friday night, you can sell off the idea of the Rangers being sellers at the deadline.
Here’s the Rangers Reaction from a good start to the second half:
1. Claudio the closer — Alex Claudio earned his second save Friday night and he made it look easy. The lefty retired Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas on seven pitches.
“It looked easy but it wasn’t easy inside me,” Claudio said. “Inside me I was a little nervous. If you’re not a little nervous that means you’re not feeling anything.”
Claudio, who was once the first guy out of the bullpen when a starter left early, has turned into a viable option to close out games. That’s fine with him.
“I like it. If they need me, I’m here,” he said.
2. Beltre milestone update — Adrian Beltre had two hits to inch closer to the 3,000 hit milestone. He’s now at 2,980 career hits. His game-tying, three-run homer in the sixth moved him ahead of Carl Yastrzemski for sole possession of 38th all-time with 453 homers. He now has 1,601 RBIs, 11 shy of tying Goose Goslin for 31st all-time. He has 1,090 extra-base hits, moving ahead of Jim Thome for 21st all-time, three shy of tying Dave Winfield.
Beltre likes to respond to questions about his milestones with the same refrain: “It just means I played a long time.”
But you only play that long if you’re still playing well. Beltre, at 38, is still really good.
“I think I’m productive enough where I can help my ball club,” he said. “It’s going to be a battle the whole year and hopefully I can produce enough that we can get where we want to be.”
3. Speaking of Beltre — No one is speaking of Beltre as far as trades go, according to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. He said they haven’t discussed trading Beltre with anyone. He doesn’t like to call any player untouchable, for obvious reasons, but Beltre is untouchable. Not only would it be sickening for the Rangers (and their fans) to see Beltre pass multiple legendary milestones in another uniform, but they want him to retire as a Ranger. He’s untouchable.
4. Napoli’s heroics — Mike Napoli’s pinch-hit, two-run homer in the seventh gave the Rangers the lead and looked like a stroke of genius for manager Jeff Banister. Sure, replacing the left-hitting Joey Gallo with the right-hitting Napoli against left-hander Mike Minor seemed obvious, but to have Napoli sitting on the bench for a spot like that seemed too good to be true. Minor had only allowed one homer in his first 43 2/3 innings.
“Any time you can contribute like that late in the game it’s always fun,” Napoli said. “Especially coming off the bench in a pinch-hitting situation, it’s tough. I was able to put a good swing on a pitch in the middle of the zone. I was just trying to drive the ball to the gap with [Carlos Gomez] on first base and nobody out.”
Instead, he ripped a homer 444 feet into the left-field stands that lifted the Rangers to a win. It’s the first pinch-hit homer for the Rangers since Leonys Martin did it in Boston on May 19, 2015. It’s the first pinch-hit, go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later since Jurickson Profar’s walk-off homer against the Angels on Sept. 26, 2013. The last time a Rangers player hit a pinch-hit go-ahead homer on the road was Beltre on May 5, 2012 at Cleveland.
5. Perez’s poise — Martin Perez allowed a two-run homer to light-hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar in the second inning but he kept his composure on the mound and earned the win after holding the Royals to three runs over seven innings. The seven innings matches his season-long outing. He did it with efficient innings, never throwing more than 16 pitches and getting through the sixth on six pitches. His 89 pitches are the fewest he’s thrown in the a game since April 19 at Oakland when he left early after giving up four runs in the first. Perez (5-6) earned his first road win since Sept. 6, 2016 at Seattle. He induced two double plays, including one started by a nifty stop by Rougned Odor in the sixth after a lead-off single by Eric Hosmer. Perez got Mike Moustakas to foul out down the right-field line to Odor, who made an acrobatic catch after a long run to end the inning.