The Texas Rangers whiffed on just about every major free agency target they had this past offseason. There was the Nolan Ryan distraction during spring training. There is the Biogenesis PED investigation, which still threatens to suck in outfielder Nelson Cruz.
Starting pitchers Colby Lewis and Martin Perez, and relievers Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria, are on the disabled list. Starting pitcher Matt Harrison joined them April 20 and won’t be back until the All-Star break, thanks to a herniated disc.
Yet these Rangers just keep on rolling. The Seattle Mariners were kind enough to stop by Rangers Ballpark this weekend and get swept. The Rangers shut them out on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, the Rangers gave up just three runs as Justin Grimm, in his second start this season, had a career-high nine strikeouts.
Since 2011, the Rangers have had the best winning percentage in April of any Major League team.
The bullpen has been superb thus far. The pitching staff has the second-best ERA in the American League. The Rangers are the only team to go this deep into the season without a losing streak.
Then there’s this little nugget: Since 2011, the Rangers have had the best winning percentage in April of any Major League team. After their 11-3 win over Seattle, the Rangers are 45-23 in the month of April over the last three seasons.
It seems no matter what happens to this team, they can’t seem to resist getting off to a great start. Manager Ron Washington knows the formula, and it's not exactly a state secret.
“Pitching and defense,” Washington said. “Usually when the season starts, the pitching is ahead of the hitting. If you pitch well, you can keep yourself in ball games. That’s what we’ve done, and it’s kept us in ball games. We’re scoring a lot of runs late, and we’re winning. The pitching and catching has to be consistent all season. But coming out of the chute you have to pitch well, and you can only give them 27 outs.”
The Rangers did commit an error, but it didn’t matter in a contest in which the bats finally went off. The Rangers hit four home runs, including Cruz’s grand slam, the fifth of his career. Leonys Martin, the Rangers’ prize outfield prospect, hit his first career home run.
First baseman Mitch Moreland broke the 1-1 tie with a home run in the fourth inning. Adrian Beltre added insult to injury with a late home run to give the Rangers a 10-2 lead.
Sunday was the Rangers’ first four-home run game this season. It was also their first game in which they scored more than 10 runs and just their sixth game of five runs or more. To build on Washington’s point, the Rangers are a .500 team when they score fewer than five runs.
That doesn’t sound great. But in a 162-game season, you’re going to play plenty of close games. Being .500 in those games at this point in the year shows the Rangers’ plan at pitching is paying off.
Michael Kirkman went three innings in relief of Grimm and gave up one run. This came one night after starter Nick Tepesch left in the second inning after taking a line drive off his wrist. The Rangers used four pitchers and kept the shutout intact.
“The starting pitching has been getting us to the bullpen, and we haven’t had to overuse them,” Washington said. “Our pitching and defense has been keeping us in games until our offense comes around.”
Washington didn’t declare the Rangers’ offense had “come around” after Sunday’s explosion. But it might be the best sign yet that the Rangers have found a way to solve the production hole left by the departures of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli.
“We’ll get consistent, and when we’re consistent, everyone will realize it,” Washington said.