Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers have surprised everyone but themselves at mid-season mark

The Texas Rangers are at the midpoint of the 2019 season and it couldn’t have come with a better exclamation point.

Texas finished off a sweep of the reeling Detroit Tigers with a 3-1 win at Comerica Park Thursday afternoon.

Joey Gallo, in just his third game since returning from the injured list, homered twice. He has been on base seven times in 13 plate appearances since his return. He has 19 homers and 44 RBIs in 53 games.

Ariel Jurado had one of his best outings in the rotation. He held Detroit scoreless on six hits and a walk over seven innings. He struck out four.

The Rangers have won five consecutive games and are a season-high nine games above .500. They begin a three-game series against the Rays in Tampa Bay on Friday. The Rays hold a one-game lead for the top wild car spot ahead of the Rangers and Cleveland Indians, who started the day tied for the second wild card spot.

For first-year manager Chris Woodward, who took over a team considered by most to be headed for the bottom of the American League West, it’s a point of pride.

Not for himself, but for his players, who he says have bought into his philosophies without reservation.

“The goal from the beginning was to create a culture of togetherness and care,” said Woodward, who team is 45-36 at the halfway mark. “and these guys are one of the best group of guys I’ve ever been around. They care about each other. They like each other. They want to win.”

The buy-in can be found in obvious examples in Gallo, who has stayed with his approach at the plate. It’s one that calls for more takes, more stubbornness. He’s lifted his game into All-Star consideration. It has also has been prevalent in the pitching staff, which has put an emphasis on being less predictable. Lance Lynn has been the best example of that as he learned to rely less on his fastball. Even in player such as Rougned Odor, who has struggled for much of the season, the dedication to Woodward’s way of doing things has remained consistent.

“I’m proud of the progress and the growth and the buy-in to what myself and my staff have been preaching,” he said. “These guys want to be champions. They’re acting accordingly, they’re studying accordingly, they’re playing that way.”

The winning, which includes 17-9 in June, has allowed Woodward and his staff to keep raising the bar on expectations.

“I think the players like that. They want to prove people wrong,” he said.

Woodward keeps an eye, of course, on his record and the standings — in both the wild card race and AL West, where they trail the Houston Astros by 4.5 games following Thursday’s action. But he maintains he’s more concerned with the development of his players, especially the younger ones such as Willie Calhoun.

“Is that a true representation of our record or is it not,” Woodward said he asks himself. He thinks it is. “The good thing is I don’t think it’s smoke and mirrors. I never set out to create a culture or an organization that was just going to trick people to win. We’re going to stare them in the face and basically tell you how we’re going to beat you … and beat you. And I think that’s what we’ve done to this point. Teams know what to expect when they play us.”

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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.