Texas Rangers

Rangers improve on the road but wild card race tightens with Indians coming to town

The Texas Rangers are playing better on the road, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it.

Sunday’s thud conclusion to a 4-3 road trip shouldn’t mask the fact that they have won six of their last nine and nine of their last 15 on the road.

It’s a far cry from their 5-15 start away from Arlington. Manager Chris Woodward doesn’t think there’s a big reason for the 14-21 road record. But the topic was important enough for him to address the team with it before the trip began.

Despite a winning road trip, the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians have tightened the wild card standings. The Red Sox, who split four games with the Rangers to start the trip, are just percentage points behind. The Indians, who start a four-game series Monday at Globe Life Park, are now just a half-game back. The Tampa Bay Rays have a five-game lead on everyone else for the top wild card spot.

“If you were to look two or three weeks ago we were four games back,” Woodward said. “I know they were playing lesser ball clubs. I know things are streaky.”

Woodward echoed his mission statement when he was named the Rangers manager.

“We wanted to create the identity that we’re going to win every series,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing that we go into this [Reds] series thinking we should win all three. That’s what good teams think. Hopefully, we’re putting it in our player’s minds a tier of the better teams. That’s what brought me here, that’s what we wanted to create.”

They did that in Cincinnati and nearly took all four in Boston but had to settle for a split. Now they come home for seven games against the Indians, who’ve won seven of their past 10, and White Sox (five of their past 10) where they’re 24-12. Only the Astros are better at home.

“I love that that’s our mentality. That’s our expectation, to win every series. [Against Cleveland], we’re expecting to win three out of four,” he said. “They’re not going to make it easy. Just like we’re not going to make it easy on them.”

Six thoughts from a weekend in Cincy:

1. Scoring first — The Rangers have scored in the first inning in each of their past five games, including the three in Cincinnati. Texas never trailed against the Reds after scoring five combined runs in the first frame. Shin-Soo Choo’s solo homer on Sunday kept the streak going.

The Rangers lead the majors with 58 first-inning runs in 2019. Opponents have scored 40. The Reds are second with 51. Texas is 24-13 when it scores first, including Sunday’s loss.

2. Hunter of fastballs — Hunter Pence ripped a 3-0 pitch for a two-run homer in the third inning. It’s his 15th of the season. Here’s your (almost daily) reminder of resurgence Pence is having at the plate. The last time he had more than 13 homers in a season was 2014, when he had 20. Pence has 42 RBIs in his last 41 games and has the third-most RBIs in the majors since April 27.

He left the game in the bottom of the fifth with a groin injury after chasing down a double down the line.

3. Ariel view — Starter Ariel Jurado allowed a career-high seven runs on nine hits over three innings. He pitched into the fourth but did not retire a batter. He walked one and had no strikeouts for the first time in a start this season.

4. All in all — Despite an hour, 34 minute rain delay before first pitch on Sunday, the Rangers made it out of Cincinnati without much in the way of weather issues. It didn’t seem like that would be the case before their series opener on Friday with thunderstorms and rain in the forecast all weekend. The later part of Saturday’s game was played in a consistent rain, but luckily, the worst of the storm happened after midnight. It continued to rain Sunday morning, but finally let up about 2 p.m. More storms were looming later on Sunday but the game finished before they hit the area.

5. Sitting on 69 — Texas entered Sunday’s game with 69 double plays, the third most in the American League. They recorded their 70th double play in the fifth when Ronald Guzman started a 3-6.

6. Minor miracle — Pitcher Mike Minor pinch-hit for reliever Pete Fairbanks in the fifth inning with the Rangers trailing 8-3. He’s the first Texas pitcher to pinch-hit since Nick Martinez in May 31, 2014. Minor grounded out to short. Also, pitcher Shelby Miller walked for the second this season. The other was on May 8. No other Texas pitcher has walked in a game since 2017.

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Stefan Stevenson has been covering sports for the Star-Telegram since 1997. He spent five years covering TCU athletics, which included two BCS bowls, two trips to the college World Series and the move to the Big 12. He has covered the Texas Rangers since 2014 and started reporting on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.