The Texas Rangers get an off day Monday after an 11-game, three-city road trip, their longest of the 2014 season. The trip started with news that Prince Fielder would likely miss the remainder of the season with spinal fusion surgery. But that news only seemed to stiffen the backbone of the team, which went on to win two of the three series and go 7-4 on the trip.
So what did we learn about this team while it was away from Arlington? A few thoughts:
* Mimicking the manager. With all of the injuries, the average age on this team has dropped a bit. That plays right into the hands of manager Ron Washington, whose ability to foster a positive clubhouse and teach young players is on full display. The manager's attitude is rubbing off on these players, who are improving defensively and playing the game with enthusiasm. Even in their words, you can see they are trying to avoid dwelling on the injuries and are just playing baseball.
* It's all about pitching. We can talk all we want to about this team's offense, which has vastly improved the last few weeks (we'll get to that in a moment). But winning series still comes down to pitching. The Rangers didn't get the starting pitching they wanted for the first two games in Washington and they lost those contests as Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch struggled. But Lewis, Nick Martinez and Yu Darvish pitched well against Detroit and the rotation did a solid job in Minnesota to help the Rangers to series wins. In the seven victories, the starting pitchers posted a 2.34 ERA in 50 innings (including five quality starts).
* Run support. The bats came alive during the 11-game road trip as the Rangers hit .302 as a team and scored 5.2 runs per game, more than a half-run over their average before the trip began. That's significant. The team had 39 extra-base hits in that span.
* Nice Odor. Rougned Odor sure is fun to watch, isn't he? The 20-year-old infielder played in nine of the 11 road games and had a hit in seven of them. He had an incredible game Saturday, May 24, in Detroit, going 4-for-5 with two triples and five RBIs, becoming the youngest player to do since Rogers Hornsby in 1916. Odor ended up batting .379 on the trip with a team-high nine RBIs. He flashed his glove, too, earning plenty of praise from Washington (who doesn't pour praise on young players without a good reason).
* Lack of power. Perhaps it's time to accept that this team isn't going to be one with a lot of power. The lineup has some power hitters still in it -- Adrian Beltre, Mitch Moreland and Shin-Soo Choo, for instance. But the consistent power hasn't been there. Texas is second-to-last in the AL in home runs with just 35 on the season. Despite scoring 57 runs on the road trip, only five of the club's 39 extra-base hits were home runs.
* Neck appears fine. Darvish was able to calm most fears about his neck Sunday. The 27-year-old pitched like an ace, halting a two-game losing streak and pitching eight innings in the 2-0 victory. Darvish had 12 strikeouts and was completely in control.
* Mr. Consistency. Can you imagine the Rangers offense this season without Alex Rios? The right fielder has been impressive and was again swinging the bat well on the road. Rios hit .391 with six extra-base hits and four RBIs during the trip. He got some help, too. Beltre hit .357 with a homer and five RBIs on the 11-game journey as a host of guys made offensive contributions.
* Standings. Despite the solid trip, the Rangers' gained just two games in the AL West. They are six back of the Oakland A's in the division, but did move past the Seattle Mariners and into third place. They are just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Angels for second.