No matter how poorly the Texas Rangers played in April — and they did play poorly — they kept saying that they had time on their side.
The offense wasn’t going to be that bad for the rest of the season, it couldn’t possibly be that bad, and the same went for the defense.
The bullpen would settle down, too, and the rotation might strike on a pitcher to adequately replace Derek Holland.
Well, the Rangers were right.
Of course, it wasn’t as easy as their 19-11 May record would make it seem, but what a month it was after a 7-14 April. The Rangers are rolling, thanks primarily to their offense, but they are now faced with the challenge of having a successful June while not having Adrian Beltre for much of the month.
“Everyone is playing better. That’s what it really comes down to,” right-hander Shawn Tolleson said. “Every hitter just needed to see a few more pitches, and every pitcher just needed to see a few more batters. Now, we’re ready to roll.”
Tolleson’s contributions over the past two weeks as the closer in the revamped, no-roles bullpen were critical, stabilizing an area that was sinking the team. But no matter the good that unit did the past two weeks, May was about the offense.
The Rangers had the fewest hits (150) and worst batting average (.210) in the majors in April. Only two teams hit fewer home runs (13), and no team had a lower slugging percentage (.318).
In May, though, the Rangers led the majors in home runs (42), runs (158), slugging percentage (.462), extra-base hits (105) and total bases (480). Their 284 hits led the American League, and their .273 average was secondL.
The Rangers also started hitting with runners in scoring position after an AL-worst .200 average in April. They upped it to .259 in May, just seventh in the league, but a vast improvement.
“I felt like in April, we had water in the gas tank,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We needed to get a tuneup. We had some guys that really have found that rhythm. It just took a couple guys a little longer.”
Prince Fielder was the only regular who hit in April, and he kept it going in May. He batted .377 with nine homers and 28 RBIs, and is the top hitter in the AL with a .359 average.
Shin-Soo Choo also found himself at the plate. He was woeful in April, batting .096, but he batted .295 in May as he found his rhythm as the leadoff hitter before settling into the second spot.
Beltre, who has a sprained and lacerated left thumb and could miss three weeks, jumped from .205 in April to .293 in May.
“Fielder and Choo and Beltre, and there’s that DeShields cat that has found a way to make himself visible in that lineup,” Banister said.
Delino DeShields got his break when Leonys Martin sprained his left wrist early in the month at Houston. DeShields essentially is an everyday player now, and in May batted .296 with 22 runs, 15 walks, 10 steals and a .406 on-base percentage.
When he and Choo were on base, they made it easier for Fielder and Beltre to bring them in. Oh, and Josh Hamilton, who hit two homers and drove in five runs in his first seven games back in the Rangers’ lineup.
“We just scored more runs than the other team,” Fielder said. “We’re playing better baseball and getting more timely hits.”
The offense’s success trickled down to the pitching staff, which got a lift from veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. He cemented his spot as Holland’s replacement by going 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA in May, the best mark of the five starters.
Tolleson led the bullpen’s revolution after it was stripped of its roles May 17. Tolleson went 6 for 6 in save opportunities, the first six of his career, and Tanner Scheppers and Ross Ohlendorf have provided needed relief after being summoned from Triple A Round Rock.
Through May 16, the bullpen’s ERA was an AL-worst 6.27. Since May 17, the bullpen has had the league’s fourth-best ERA at 2.63.
“Winning is just so much more fun,” Tolleson said. “The games are more fun, the clubhouse more fun, and the team just seems to feed off that.”
The Rangers, though, have to hope their choice to replace Beltre doesn’t get stuck in the headlights. They promoted third baseman Joey Gallo, their top prospect, from Double A Frisco, rather than use Adam Rosales at third and recall Rougned Odor from Round Rock to play second base.
It’ll be a challenge to have as good of a month without Beltre, but the Rangers are rolling.
“After not getting started the way we wanted in April, it was big for us,” first baseman Mitch Moreland said. “It’s been a blast, and hopefully we can continue to carry it over.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
The Rangers had arguably the worst offense in the majors in April, but made a strong case for having the best in May.
April (AL rank)
May (AL rank)
* Led majors