Revitalized Rangers regain form
Texas moves beyond June-July swoon, puts together stretch of winning baseball
ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's a different energy about this Texas Rangers team the past few weeks.
They've had beer showers and walk-off dramatics. The once-stagnant offense is showing its versatility again, and they're pressuring opponents on the bases. Even the starting rotation, severely impacted by injuries, looks like it's finding more of a groove.
After Sunday's 8-3 win over the Detroit Tigers, the Rangers were 21 games over .500 and held a commanding 6½-game lead in the AL West, matching their largest of the season. In short: It's Texas Rangers baseball again in Arlington.
"We're having fun out there," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "We did well to start the season and you settle into a routine and maybe we were chilling out and thinking the home runs would come and the pitchers would go nine innings and we'd be fine.
"We weren't making things happen. That's not right. The other teams sent us the message that we weren't playing the way we were capable. Then we started trying to do too much. Now we're aggressive, but playing it one inning at a time and making things happen."
It sure seems that way. And several players and manager Ron Washington pointed toward their huge comeback against the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 1 as the spark that has allowed the Rangers' fire to burn again.
"We got punched in the stomach," Washington said of the way his team's 11-10, 10-inning victory started. "We gave them six runs. We got the air knocked out of us. You can bend over and give in or you can say you're not bending and get your air back. We said, 'We're not bending.' We showed what we were made of. We got challenged and rose to the challenge."
A loss that night would have left the reeling Rangers just two games up in the AL West over the hard-charging Angels. Instead, the lead grew to four games, and the Angels have yet to recover. It was the start of a 7-3 run for Texas and a 3-7 tailspin for Los Angeles.
As a result, the Oakland A's have taken over second place in the division, and the Angels have fallen eight games behind the Rangers.
So despite not passing the eye test for two months, missing chances at clutch hits, starting pitchers struggling to go deep into games and some relievers experiencing difficulties, the Rangers head to New York with less than eight weeks of the season left in control of the AL West.
They arrive in the Big Apple as a much better team than they were in June and July. They look a little different, too.
Ryan Dempster is now in the rotation and looked more like the top-flight pitcher he was in the National League as he beat the Red Sox last week. He'll toe the rubber Monday in New York. Geovany Soto, Dempster's teammate with the Chicago Cubs, is now the starting catcher with Yorvit Torrealba gone and Mike Napoli on the disabled list.
But the core players who have been here the past few seasons have started to revert to form.
After a horrible June and July, Josh Hamilton is back to hitting home runs and cashing in run-scoring chances. He's on a 10-game hitting streak during which he is 15-for-42 (.357) with three homers and 15 RBIs. He had 11 RBIs in July.
Ian Kinsler, still the key cog in this offense with his tone-setting ability and versatility in the leadoff spot, is batting over .300 in August and making teams sweat with his feet on the basepaths.
Even Mitch Moreland, who was injured and not particularly effective, has returned from the disabled list productive and confident. He had two more hits on Sunday and is batting .359 in the 13 games since getting back in the lineup. And he's the No. 9 hitter, showing the depth of this offense when it's clicking.
Derek Holland, who has dealt with injury and inconsistency all season, looked like the guy who was so dominant in the second half of 2011 and in Game 4 of the World Series. He held the powerful Tigers lineup to one run on three hits in 7⅔ innings Saturday. He matched Justin Verlander, and the Rangers pulled out a walk-off win.
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Yu Darvish, also struggling to find his stride, had just his second quality start in the past six starts in Sunday's win. He wasn't dominant, but he was able to battle back after getting behind in some counts and recorded big outs. Perhaps it will get him going in the right direction.
But you can trace much of the improved play of the club, especially on offense, to that series split with the Angels.
"Sometimes all you need is a little jolt to get you going," said outfielder David Murphy, whose average is a shade under .300 for the season. "Those last two games against the Angels really just helped. Those games helped us come alive.
"Sometimes that's all you need is just a game or two here or there to spark you. It's a feel thing and I think it's difficult when collectively everybody is not feeling themselves at the plate. That was the case there for a little while. Now we're back to playing a little bit more like we're capable of. It's fun."