This is getting weird. The Rangers’ mastery of the Astros continued Tuesday night with a 4-3 win behind Ian Desmond’s two-run, go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. That’s eight consecutive wins against the Astros to start the season and 12 in a row against the Astros at Globe Life Park. They meet 11 more times, including Wednesday and Thursday. The Rangers have the best record in the American League at 36-22, matching the club record for wins through 58 games (2013). By the way, if the Rangers keep winning, be prepared to read that stat a bunch more the rest of the season.
The Rangers have a season-best five-game win streak. Their starting pitching has remained steady and the bullpen has coalesced since Sam Dyson became the closer. The offense, which started slow, has hit another gear behind Desmond, Nomar Mazara and Jurickson Profar. The Rangers have the best record in the A.L. despite the fact that cornerstones of the offense Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Shin-Soo Choo have been largely non-factors.
Profar played first base for the first time and made several nifty plays, including a few long stretches to make the catch ahead of the runner. After the game, Profar downplayed the whole affair and said he enjoyed the position.
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“He has fun no matter where you put him,” Jeff Banister said. “He has fun being at the ballpark. This is a guy who missed two years. We saw it in spring training. I had heard about it, heard about how infectious he is in the dugout, on the field. He’s a ballplayer. He’s a grown-up ballplayer and he loves to play the game of baseball. He plays it with a youthful exuberance and it’s fun to watch.”
For the past couple of weeks, the Rangers have been fun to watch. Here are three thoughts from Tuesday night:
1. Desmond defers — Desmond’s two-run homer was the game-winner but he quickly turned the postgame spotlight to his teammates, including Profar singling to get on base before him. Desmond is the type of guy, much like the other leaders in the Rangers’ clubhouse, who doesn’t care about the limelight. He’s a veteran who has been an All-Star and won multiple Silver Slugger awards. He really just wants to win and win a World Series. You get that sense not only because that’s what he says but because of what he doesn’t say. He’s more comfortable talking about his teammates than talking about himself. And for more than a month, he certainly has a lot he could talk about. He was hitting .236 on May 6. He’s now at .307 and has five homers and 26 RBI in the past month. He leads the team with 24 multi-hit games and 18 of them have come in the past month. Take a bow, Ian.
2. ‘Step back’ for Prince? — Prince Fielder responded quickly and bluntly when asked whether his two-night unplugged session helped after getting two hits Monday night. “No,” he said. What may have helped, however, is a slight change in his batting stance. Fielder kept from moving his front right foot backward as he started his swing Monday night. It’s a minor change Jeff Banister thinks helped Fielder’s overall swing. Tuesday night, Fielder lifted his right heal off the ground as the pitch approached him but kept his toes on the dirt. He was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. He drew a walk in his last at-bat in the eighth. He was facing a tough left-hander in Dallas Keuchel who was pitching well until Desmond tagged him in the eighth. Before the game, Banister discussed the slight change in Fielder’s stance.
“There’s a kinetic chain of events that happen,” Banister said. “It’s not just barrel to ball. So, anytime there’s a fundamental change in the kinetic change of events it does change things. What that changes, whether it’s visually, physically or rhythmically for Prince obviously he feels comfortable with it so he’s going to run with it. Where that takes him, that’s in his hands. I have complete confidence. We feel like he’s going to get on track.”
3. All-Star voting — The second All-Star balloting for the American League was released Tuesday and, good news, the Rangers actually had a player among the top five at a position. Shortstop Elvis Andrus has 295,820 votes for fifth place at the position, only 90,000 fewer than the Astros’ Carlos Correa in fourth place and more than 700,000 votes behind first-place Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox. Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez leads the A.L. with over 1.6 million votes. Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who says he’s retiring after the season, is second with over 1.4 million.