A five-game winning streak and victories in eight of nine games can alter the course of a season thought to be a lost cause on Opening Day and even as recently as 10 days ago.
Or maybe such a hot stretch is simply delaying the inevitable.
The Texas Rangers entered Saturday as one of several teams in the major leagues who have either started a climb toward the top of the standings or increased their first-place lead.
They had won five straight and eight of nine before their staff ace, Mike Minor, got the ball Saturday night against a Los Angeles Angels team that had lost five in a row. The outcome of the game was settled after press time.
But the Rangers were playing better than they have all season, with the pitching staff actually carrying the normally offense-infused team to victories. The offense is one of the best in baseball, and the defense and base running have been clean.
And now the Rangers believe more than ever that they aren’t just going to beat the low expectations set by various formulas, sports books and MLB analysts. The Rangers believe they are contenders.
But are they really this good?
“We’re trying to keep looking for that full potential that we know we have here in this clubhouse,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “It’s been something beautiful. Every week, it’s like, ‘OK, we can do this.’ The next week, ‘OK. We can beat this team.’ We can play at the same level with the best teams in the league.”
The Rangers want to continue playing well so that general manager Jon Daniels feels compelled to add help at the trade deadline rather than trade away veterans for a batch of prospects as he did the past two seasons.
The Rangers would have to play well, at home and on the road, for two more months for that to happen.
“As long as we stay healthy and we pitch well, we’re going to stay right in the mix,” Andrus said.
But even if the Rangers limp to the July 31 trade deadline, they might have already shown Daniels and club brass that they are further along in their rebuild than originally thought.
That might not have Daniels seeking additions in July, but it could have him thinking that the core group and a few off-season acquisitions could make the Rangers contenders in 2020.
Joey Gallo has been one of the best players in the game so far this season. Andrus, who came of the 10-day injured list Saturday, and Shin-Soo Choo have produced at the top of the batting order. Minor leads the majors in WAR for pitchers, and Lance Lynn has been as advertised.
Hunter Pence has unexpectedly been one of the club’s best players, and the bench duo of Danny Santana and Logan Forsythe have provided an unexpected spark while the Rangers dealt with injuries to Andrus, Rougned Odor and Ronald Guzman.
A team evolves during the course of the season, and these Rangers have been no different. Their Opening Day center fielder is in the minors, their Opening Day closer lost his job and one member of the Opening Day rotation is in the bullpen.
Santana opened the season at Triple A.
“We had to learn about a lot of our players, too,” manager Chris Woodward said. “We’re constantly learning who they are, what they’re capable of, what situations they can handle, where they’re at today, where they were at a week ago.”
Woodward sees an opportunity during the Rangers’ hot streak. Yes, things are going well, but it’s no time to take anything for granted.
Some players know that. The younger ones, though, might need a reminder.
“You have to be mindful of your flaws as well as building off your success,” Woodward said. “It’s important to find that momentum and keep going with it, but at the same time, if you don’t address those little things, you’ll fall on your face quickly because the rest of the league is good. If you take any big-league team lightly, they’ll stomp you.”
Though 48 games, though, they Rangers have done more stomping than not. They are one of the league’s biggest surprises, and they were riding a five-game winning streak entering Saturday.
But are they really this good?
“That’s a good question,” Woodward said. “You never really know. At the end of the year, I’ll tell you. Right now, you can’t really know until that point comes.”