The Texas Rangers stumbled out of April. They looked battered and beaten after getting swept at home by the Oakland A's to finish off the month with a four-game losing streak and a three-game deficit in the AL West.
Players always talk about "turning the calendar to the next month," but it has become so cliche that you simply ignore it. But I wonder if an off day May 1 actually helped the Rangers do that. The club's veteran leadership didn't see any reason for an early-season panic meeting after that sweep. Neither did the manager, choosing instead to stress to his team to forget about it and move on.
It seems they've done that. The Rangers took two out of three games from the Los Angeles Angels this past weekend -- another threat in the AL West -- and in doing so showed some better signs, especially on the offensive side of the game. A few thoughts:
• Is Prince Fielder starting to heat up? We've said this before only to see him have another four or five games of struggles, but I think this weekend was different. He's got a five-game hitting streak and on Sunday was 3-for-4 with two RBI doubles. That's exactly what they need Fielder to do -- and he did it early in Sunday's game to give starter Yu Darvish some run support. Fielder went from first to third in the series, too, and played well at first base. It was just a solid, complete series for him. That has to give him some confidence as the month begins with his first three-hit day as a Ranger.
• Darvish hangs in. When you're the ace of the staff and your offense goes out and scores three runs for you, you can't turn around and give two of them back. To Darvish's credit -- and the Rangers' offense -- it didn't change the outcome. Texas' bats got the two runs right back for Darvish in the top of the second, and he didn't allow the Angels to get any closer. Darvish threw 51 pitches in the first two innings, yet he settled down (thanks in large part to a big replay overturn to get an out at third base) and got a little more efficient and pitched 6⅓ innings. It was not his best effort, clearly, but it was a good recovery to rest portions of the bullpen, which was important.
• Comeback kids. We've seen this club make some nice comebacks this season but not in the past week. That changed Friday. After the way the club hit during the A's series, the 2-0 deficit into the sixth inning had to feel like 5-0. But three runs changed all of that, and you could see the dugout get a lift. Texas added two more in the seventh to beat the Angels 5-2 and end the streak. Those are the kinds of wins that can help you get off to a solid week.
• Homers. This team finished April with 14 homers. Only the Kansas City Royals had fewer. But so far in May, they've already got four in just three games. And while you might expect a home run from Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios, the club also got one from J.P. Arencibia and Michael Choice, two guys who were really struggling as the month began.
• Patience. This weekend was a reminder that it's going to be needed from this team. It's important for this rotation to have Matt Harrison back in it, but there's going to be a settling-in period. Harrison didn't have his command Saturday and got into trouble. As slowly as the Rangers and Harrison approached his return, he's still just getting acclimated again to pitching in big league games.
• Shin-Soo Choo continues to shine. While Fielder has struggled to start the season, the Rangers' other major offseason acquisition has done the job. Choo had seven hits in the series with the Angels. He's hitting .349 and has three homers and 10 RBIs. He's getting on base, just as he did last season, and is making things happen. If Fielder gets going and if Adrian Beltre can snap out of his slump, having Choo on base would mean even more.
• Shrewd move? Perhaps shifting Elvis Andrus to No. 9 in the order was just what he needed. Andrus had better at-bats Sunday, got a single, drew a walk and hit a sac fly. He seemed more comfortable. Don't expect this to become a regular thing, but for one game at least, it was sure a good move by manager Ron Washington.