First up Thursday night for the Texas Rangers, following their brief hiatus for the All-Star break, were the Houston Astros, the American League West leaders.
The two teams will play six more times through next weekend, and the Rangers will also play the Arizona Diamondbacks twice, the Seattle Mariners three times and the Oakland A’s four times.
Only the Mariners will open the second half of the 2019 MLB season below .500.
“Probably the next two weeks in front of us are the most important of the season,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
He’s right, and here’s why:
The Rangers are 49-42 after a 5-0 victory Thursday and 2 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot into the postseason. They trail the Astros by eight games in the West.
The Rangers are on the cusp of being a contender that acquires talent at the deadline, and also on the cusp being a deadline seller or a team that stands pat.
The players believe they are for real and that September will be meaningful. Their job the next two weeks is to convince general manager Jon Daniels of that.
“We all know what’s at stake,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I’m not afraid to address that by any means. Even our players, they know what’s at stake. They know our team could look different in three weeks if we win or if we lose, but at some point we’ve got to be able to handle expectations of winning or losing.”
Rougned Odor ripped a two-run double in a four-run first inning, and Lance Lynn struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings for his 12th victory of the season.
The Rangers have one of the more attractive potential trade pieces on their roster, Mike Minor. He pitched his way to an All-Star selection, the first of his career, and is controllable through next season on a club-friendly contract.
Lynn, under control for through 2021; relievers Shawn Kelley and Chris Martin, who can be free agents after the season; and infielder Danny Santana, also playing on a one-year deal, fit the profile of players frequently dealt in July.
But wins and losses the next two weeks aren’t all that Daniels will weigh. Minor and Lynn, for instance, formed one of the best 1-2 rotation punches in baseball over the first half, and there’s no need to break that up heading into 2020 and the new ballpark.
The Rangers’ first-half performance might have told Daniels and club brass that the team is closer to being a 2020 contender than initially thought when they launched the club into a rebuild.
“We knew we were underdogs,” All-Star outfielder Joey Gallo said. “We knew we were predicted to be in last or whatever. That was fine. We were cool with that. But we knew we had a special group here, and we’re just going to go out and continue doing what we’re doing.”
Much needs to go right for the Rangers heading to the deadline. They jumped out to a nice start Thursday by scoring four first-inning runs for Lynn, who was seeking his 12th win of the season.
Minor pitches Saturday and will open the three-game series at Houston next weekend. That’s the first of a 10-game road trip, and the Rangers are only 19-25 away from Globe Life Park.
The Rangers have lost eight of their past nine games at Oakland, where they play four times July 25-28.
Their plan is to play as they have so far this season, but the next two weeks will have more meaning and possibly an added dose of pressure.
It started Thursday night.
“We’d rather be in this spot than be 10 games under .500 and not really have an option,” Woodward said. “We have to deal with pressure every day. Our players have to deal with pressure. If we’re ever going to be a great team, if we’re going to be a playoff team, we’re going to have to deal with pressures every day. I like that our guys have to deal with that.”