Stranger things have happened than what transpired the past six days at Globe Life Park, where the picked-for-last Texas Rangers finished their first homestand of the season, covering their first six games of 2019, with a 4-2 record.
But series wins over the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros weren’t expected by most, if not all, neutral baseball observers. The Cubs and Astros have won two of the past three World Series. The Rangers are rebuilding.
So, yeah, the Rangers rate as one of the first-week surprises in MLB.
However, the 2019 model still has that new-season smell. The Rangers had 156 games remaining entering Thursday, when they were scheduled for their first 2019 road game against the Los Angeles Angels.
But the Rangers didn’t just fall into those four wins. They hit when they didn’t pitch well and hit enough when they did pitch well. There were performances that might actually be the start of a trend.
Here’s a look at five encouraging signs from the Rangers’ first homestand.
The Rangers asked Joey Gallo to have more discipline at the plate, to change his swing path so that the bat stays in the strike zone longer and to let pitches travel deeper to give him a better chance at hitting balls the other way.
Those aren’t small requests, but Gallo showed that he’s moving the right way.
He has drawn seven walks, one more than times he has struck out, and three of his four hits in 18 at-bats have been to left field or left-center. He’s also collecting hits in the clutch, none more so that his game-winning three-run homer Saturday in the eighth inning.
Are these changes going to make him a .300 hitter this season? Unlikely. But he should be a better hitter.
The Rangers gave Jose Leclerc a four-year contract extension during spring training, and the closer wasn’t exactly sharp in Cactus League play. The Cubs and Astros, though, saw how sharp the right-hander can be.
Leclerc appeared in all four Rangers wins, notching three saves and a win over 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He pitched an inning Tuesday and Wednesday, and needed only 15 pitches to record six outs.
Along with set-up man Shawn Kelley, who has tossed four scoreless innings, the Rangers have the makings of solid 1-2 punch for the eighth and ninth innings.
Andrus hits again
Elvis Andrus had the two best seasons of his career in 2016 and 2017 before a broken arm sent him spiraling in 2018. He entered this season as an unknown lineup commodity, even though he batted a robust .432 in spring training.
The games count now, and Andrus has kept on hitting. He went 3 for 4 on Opening Day, including a two-run homer, and is batting .375 in his first 24 at-bats. He has hit for power and used all fields while accompanied to the plate by Baby Shark.
That’s one of the few blemishes over the first six games.
The six runs charged to left-hander Mike Minor on Opening Day were a tad misleading. There was nothing misleading about the seven scoreless innings Wednesday against the Astros.
Minor pitched in the opener without his best stuff, and still managed to get to the fifth with only one run in. He left with four runs allowed and got no help from the bullpen.
The leash is off this season. The left-hander is ready to lead the rotation, and has shown in two starts that he’s capable of doing it.
He isn’t going to the Hall of Fame, as Beltre is, but Cabrera has a chance to be more productive than Beltre the past two seasons. Injuries limited Beltre 17 and 15 homers in 2017 and 2018. Cabrera had 14 and 23.
Cabrera hit three home runs on the homestand and drove in seven, matching Nomar Mazara for the team lead in RBIs. Cabrera’s defense will never be as good as Beltre’s, but he doesn’t look like a liability at third base.