Each month on the schedule has represented a different test for these Rangers as they try to break a losing habit.
April was about getting out to a good start after six years of being buried in an avalanche of early losses. Check. They went 17-11. Only once had they won more games by the end of April.
May was about winning on the road. Check. They went 13-6, tying the club record for most road wins in a month.
And now comes the next test: Facing off against winning teams.
The Rangers’ three-game series at Tampa Bay that starts Friday is a matchup of the two best records in baseball. But it is more than that. It begins a stretch in which the Rangers, who have played a relatively easy schedule, face a steady diet of contenders. According to ESPN’s RPI rankings, the Rangers’ schedule to date ranks as the easiest.
“This is going to be a great series; it’s going to create some interest,” manager Bruce Bochy said after the Rangers dropped a 1-0 decision to St. Louis in the series finale on Wednesday. “We know we are going to be playing some good teams coming up. All we are concerned about is the next game, though. We’ve shown we can play with anybody if we play our game.”
So far, that’s been true. Though the Rangers have played the fewest games (24) against teams that began Thursday at or above .500, they were 14-10. It was the second-best winning percentage against teams at or above .500. Above them, though, is Tampa Bay. The Rays had played 39 winning opponents, going 26-13.
The series with the Rays is only the start for the Rangers. Each of their next 10 games is against a winning opponent, with the Los Angeles Angels and Toronto visiting Arlington next week. Over the longer haul, it’s 20 of the next 26 against winning teams. During that time, the Rangers will hardly have time to catch their breath. They have only one scheduled off day after four consecutive Thursdays off.
Perhaps it is in part why Bochy gave a handful of players days off Wednesday. Though he did eventually pinch hit, Adolis García got just his second off day in two months. Mitch Garver and Leody Taveras, both of whom have spent time on the IL this season, also did not start (though both also pinch hit).
In addition, Jon Gray’s complete game effort gave the bullpen an extra day of rest. The relievers will have two full off days heading into the Tampa Bay series. That’s not inconsequential considering the bullpens are the weakest links for both teams. Tampa Bay has won six straight games, but the Rays used six different relievers over Wednesday and Thursday. That included back-to-back workdays for Flower Mound’s Colin Poche and closer Jason Adam. It might make both unavailable for Friday’s series opener.
A couple of other things to note about the series:
— Tampa Bay is 28-6 at Tropicana Field this season. The Rays have won their last four at home and seven of their last eight. At 19-12 (.613), though, the Rangers have the third-best road winning percentage in the majors.
— While Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco are the Rays’ biggest threats, Luke Raley has been a terror since June 1, going 6 for 17 with five extra-base hits. Ezequiel Duran (5 for 11), García (9 for 23) and Corey Seager (10 for 25) are all hitting better than .400 for the month for the Rangers.
— Two of the AL’s top pitchers early in the season will each start during the series, but Nathan Eovaldi and the Rays’ Shane McLanahan won’t face each other. Eovaldi starts Saturday’s game, McLanahan the Sunday finale.
On Twitter: @Evan_P_Grant
Tale of the tape
The Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays square off this weekend in a showdown of the two best records in baseball. Both teams are dominating almost every significant category in the game. A look at some key metrics and where each team ranks in the league (in parentheses):
|45-19, .703 (1)||Win percentage||40-21, .656 (2)|
|+133 (2)||Run differential||+154 (1)|
|5.75 (2)||Runs per game||6.33 (1)|
|.816 (1)||OPS||.802 (2)|
|.574 (2)||OPS with two strikes||607 (1)|
|.820 (2)||OPS with runners in scoring position||.934 (1)|
|2.96 (1)||Starting rotation ERA||3.13 (2)|
|4.21 (22)||Relief ERA||4.44 (23)|
|+25 (2)||Defensive runs saved||+23 (3)|