Minor sees 200 Ks, innings within reach as Rangers face the best
The party is almost over for the Texas Rangers, and they just ran out of cupcakes.
The Baltimore Orioles were the last team on the Rangers’ 2019 schedule with a losing record. The Orioles are as miserable as their record indicates, and the Rangers took advantage of them by sweeping the four-game series.
Next up is an off day Monday, which will be followed by series against the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s, Houston Astros, the A’s again, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
Those five teams are in the playoff hunt. Four of them could make the postseason. Two of them will win their divisions.
They entered Sunday a combined 146 games above .500 and with a plus-715 run differential.
“What a great thing to have to play these teams,” manager Chris Woodward said.
That might sound crazy to some, but Woodward has his reasons for embracing the 17-game walk over hot coals.
The close stretch represents a last chance for these Rangers to learn.
They will see their opponents trying to win every pitch. Rangers hitters will see pitchers executing at the highest level, and Rangers pitchers will be tested by hitters who don’t miss a mistake.
The schedule is likely to keep the Rangers from finishing .500, though at 72-73 they have already cleared their win total from 2018 (67) and crawled past the pedestrian over/under win total (71.5) set before the season by oddsmakers.
“I think it’s better for us, playing good teams like that,” Minor said. “I think guys play better. They play us. We know those teams are coming in trying to sweep us, trying to get as many wins as they can because they’re trying to make the playoffs.”
Woodward is planning to field the best lineup he can, in part because of the unwritten rule that non-contenders uphold the integrity of a playoff race. Woodward also wants to win.
“We’re trying to win every game,” he said. “I said from the second I got here, ‘We’re not in this to be mediocre.’ They may be 5 1/2-hour games because they’re trying to win every pitch because they know how important it is to make the playoffs. I want our guys to have the same fight.”
Minor is scheduled to make three more starts the rest of the way, and Lance Lynn is scheduled to make four. The Rangers expect to have Nomar Mazara (oblique) available during a six-game homestand that begins Tuesday against the Rays, and Joey Gallo (hand) might be ready by the weekend series against the A’s.
All-Star Hunter Pence (back) is mending slowly, but Woodward expects him to play again this season.
Prospects will play, too. The Rangers don’t have a choice in some instances, but Rangers lineups won’t be watered down like, say, a spring-training road game.
“I don’t think I’m going to sacrifice a win to where it’s super obvious it’s more about development than winning,” Woodward said.
Woodward, for one, is ready to embrace the challenge.
“What a great experience for our guys to finish the season on,” he said. “We’re not going to ease into the off-season and say, ‘We’ve had a decent year. Let’s move on.’ I want our guys to fight to the end.”