One of the first things Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward mentioned Wednesday night is that it’s still early in the 2019 season.
Really early, though he didn’t say that.
The Rangers are 10-7 with 145 games to go. The offense has been terrific, especially at home, the rotation has been reliable twice every five starts, and the bullpen has been overworked and underperformed.
There is time for the unexpected successful start to the season to go the other way, but there is also time for the deficiencies to improve.
No matter what happens (the external expectation continues to be that the Rangers will stumble their way to the finish line), the Rangers want to get better and believe they will.
That mindset comes from Woodward and a coaching staff that have stressed the positives, listened to players’ concerns and worked with them rather than take them down a one-way street.
When looking behind the winning start, Woodward deserves a share of the credit.
“He’s always been saying since spring training, ‘People don’t know how good you are,’” Shin-Soo Choo said. “I know we don’t have any superstar players, but baseball is not a one-person game.
“Woody has brought everybody in the clubhouse together. It’s easy to say it, but he keeps saying it every day. It means help each other. Everybody wants to be a hero, but don’t try too much and give it to the next guy.”
The players, though, are the ones who are getting the hits, scoring the runs and stopping the opponents. All 25 have done something positive, but some have done more than others.
Here’s a look at the five best Rangers players after just a 17-game sliver of their season.
It didn’t take Woodward saying that Andrus has been the Rangers’ best player, but it’s true. The shortstop has been doing everything well. Some of what he’s done has been exceptional.
That steal at home? That turned out to be a huge run Sunday in the Rangers’ 8-7 comeback over the Oakland Athletics. His home run that game? One of three this season, one of eight extra-base hits, and part of his .600 slugging percentage.
Add in the extra duties he has in running the clubhouse, and, as Woodward said, Andrus has been the Rangers’ best player.
Choo hasn’t been a slouch. He has 10 extra-base hits, leads the Rangers with a 1.046 OPS and has provided the kind of quality at-bats that others players should and are modeling for themselves.
It should come as no surprise that Choo is leading the club with a .446 on-base percentage. He has delivered RBI hits in key situations and has sparked many Rangers rallies.
Oh, he has also been playing a lot in the outfield and has done so adequately.
Who is the only pitcher in the American League with a shutout so far this season? It’s Minor, who spun a three-hit gem Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels to lower his ERA to 2.60 after four starts.
He has been motivated to be the Rangers’ No. 1 starter since the end of last season, and he is pitching as well as he did in 2013, the best season of his career. He says he is actually better now.
Off the leash and feeling comfortable in the clubhouse, Minor is off and rolling.
There are going to be games like the ones Gallo had last week at Arizona (four strikeouts) and Wednesday against the Angels (three Ks), but the left fielder has shown more at the plate than ever.
The power, obviously, is still there and always will be. But he has improved his knowledge of the strike zone, resulting in a team-best 11 walks, and he also leads the Rangers with 15 RBIs and 13 runs scored.
Get this: Gallo has two opposite-field singles, a sign that he has taken to the adjustments he was asked to make and he is sticking with them.
If other pitchers haven’t been motivated by Minor’s success and three straight starts of at least seven innings, perhaps Lynn’s pitching style has pushed them.
Lynn is going to take the ball, eat innings and keep his team in games. He has done it in his past three starts, even though he says he hasn’t been at his best.
But he has been what the Rangers signed him to be and what they have needed with three spots in the rotation still unsettled.
Cabrera has provided some clutch hits and key homers (he’s tied with Gallo for the team lead with six), and his defense at third best hasn’t been an issue.
Kiner-Falefa continues to make strides defensively, where he remains inexperienced, and at the plate. He hasn’t hit for much power, but he has been productive at the bottom of the lineup and his five walks suggest that he has also adapted to changes asked of him.