Any player will tell you that the key to getting to the postseason is to win series, no matter their length and no matter where they are played.
The Texas Rangers have been doing that at home better than they ever have, with a club-record 10 consecutive series wins in Arlington.
After taking two of three on the road from the Seattle Mariners over the weekend, the Rangers have won seven series in a row overall.
With that has come the following: the best record in the American League, a five-game lead in the AL West and a march to 15 games above .500 (39-24).
Next up is a four-game series at the site of their last series loss, Oakland Coliseum. The Rangers-A’s game Monday will hardly be on the radar in the Bay Area. Game 5 of the NBA Finals will tip off about 100 yards away an hour before first pitch.
A Golden State win would clinch the title and could make for a fun time trying to get home. Can’t wait.
Until then, here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 6-4 victory.
1. The Rangers’ 6-1 lead after seven innings was built with an offense that continues to get contributions from up and down the lineup. No. 2 hitter Ian Desmond had a two-run single, No. 7 hitter Elvis Andrus drove in two runs, and No. 8 hitter Mitch Moreland had a two-run homer.
The Rangers’ win, though, was saved by defense, as was their 2-1 victory Saturday night. Desmond and Moreland made the key plays Saturday in the final two innings, and Moreland and Nomar Mazara did it Sunday.
Moreland’s diving stop for the first out of the eighth inning robbed Ketel Marte of a leadoff double. The next three Mariners collected singles to load the bases with one out, and Seattle would score two as Jake Diekman temporarily lost his control.
Moreland’s play saved at least one run.
Mazara’s play will be on more highlight reels because A) his throw to second base ended the game and B) he threw out All-Star Robinson Cano as he tried to stretch his RBI single into a double.
Cano isn’t known for his blazing speed or praised for tremendous hustle, but he shouldn’t have had any trouble getting into second and allowing the potential tying run to bat. But he found a lot of trouble when Mazara retrieved the ball in the right-field corner and threw a strike to Elvis Andrus.
The Mariners didn’t even bother to challenge.
The Rangers might not win any Gold Gloves after this season, but they should have some finalists. There’s no doubt, however, that their defense is improved and that pitchers trust the players behind them enough to let the ball be put in play.
Defense helped save the day the past two games.
2. Confession time: I was going to write that Cole Hamels got back on track Sunday, but after looking back at his day-by-day results this season, he’s never been off track.
He had a stretch in which he allowed five runs, four runs and six runs in three of four starts, and the Rangers entered Sunday having lost three of his past five starts.
But he has gone at least seven innings in four of his past five starts and has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 11 of 14 starts.
Hamels (6-1) seems to thrive whenever a runner reaches. Sometimes he looks so smooth and effortless that it seems as if he could just keep on pitching.
He got a little help in the seventh inning to get out of trouble, as Elvis Andrus jumped to get a soft liner from Shawn O’Malley to strand runners at first and second. He dug deep a batter earlier to get Leonys Martin to pop to shallow center for a big second out.
When he was done after seven innings and 104 pitches he had allowed one run and four hits and along the way became the 77th pitcher in MLB history with 2,000 strikeouts. His ERA is 3.14.
Glad he got back on track Sunday. (Insert eye roll here.)
3. A follower on the Twitter called Desmond the team’s MVP so far this season, and he has quite the case with an average above .300 and with the team’s most selfless act by moving to center field, where he had never played.
He’s not just playing center field. He’s playing the heck out of it, running down balls in the alleys and displaying the kind of arm that makes opposing teams think twice about testing.
Desmond isn’t the only strong candidate. Adrian Beltre is a perennial candidate and his case over two months includes Gold Glove-worthy defense, the team lead in RBIs and one of three leaders in homers.
My pick, though, is the front-runner to be the AL Rookie of the Year. Mazara’s contributions as the replacement for one of the team’s best players last year has helped the Rangers surge into first place.
He has hit for average and power from the second, third and fifth spots in the lineup; his defense has been better than the scouting report on him coming out of the minors; and he isn’t making the typical mistakes that rookies usually make.
Take him out of the equation, and the Rangers still would have had a good team the first two-plus months. But they wouldn’t have been as good without out him, and he figures to be a key player the rest of the way.