If you recall, when the Texas Rangers rebuild started in earnest, 2023 was the season that that guy who used to run the team pointed to as the season to watch. Improvement was expected in 2022, but it wasn’t seen as a likely playoff year. 2023, though…noise should be made, we were told.
Well, the Rangers are one-ninth of the way through the 2023 season, and they are looking pretty good right now. Texas has the fourth best record in baseball, at 12-6. They have the second best run differential in MLB. They are in first place in the A.L. West, 3.5 games up on the Astros and Angels and 4.5 games up on the Mariners.
This is, to be sure, a flawed team. The outfield is terrible. Corey Seager and Mitch Garver are on the injured list. The bullpen is a work in progress.
And it is still very, very early.
But wins in April count the same as wins in August and September. If you get some “W”s early in the year, they are in the bank and don’t get taken away later in the year if you slump. If your target is, say, 92 wins, and you win 12 of your first 18, that means you just need to win 80 of your remaining 144 games, instead of, say, the 82 you’d need if you went 10-8.
And that is probably particularly important if you are a team that is coming off six straight losing seasons, that had a disappointing 2022 campaign that saw the President of baseball ops and the manager fired, that has spent big in free agency but is still viewed with skepticism and is commonly picked to finish fourth in the division. In such a situation, from a psychological standpoint — a team vibes standpoint — the organization probably emphasized trying to get off to a fast start.
(And no doubt the owner, who was very public in his displeasure last season with how things were going, wants to see the big checks he is writing pay off early, both for the overall happiness of the team winning and the effect it would seemingly have on ticket sales to a jaded fan base.)
And there has been, I think, a sense of urgency with the team early in the year. Bruce Bochy had used the bullpen aggressively. And we have talked about Ezequiel Duran, and the curious decision to have him in the majors to sit on the bench and start once a week, rather than start the year in AAA players every day.
Most teams, even contenders, don’t do that. Look to New York, where Oswald Peraza and Brett Baty both started the season in the minors, despite being one of the Yankees’ and Mets’ best 26 players, because there wasn’t a regular role for either, and the teams felt putting them in a bench role wouldn’t serve them as well as playing every day in AAA, and knowing that each would likely be needed in the majors at some point in the year.
The Rangers made a different choice in keeping Duran up. Maybe if they were coming off playoff appearances, like the Yankees and the Mets, they’d have made a different decision. But given the urgency to make a push this year, and what I suspect was the desire to get off to a fast start, Duran’s value in a bench role and potential to help the team win now trumped development.
Which gets us (finally) to this weekend’s games. The Astros are playing the Braves in Atlanta. The Rangers are playing at home against the soon-to-be Las Vegas A’s. The Braves are favored to make the playoffs. The A’s are favored to end the year with 100+ losses and are off to a start that has them on an all time list that is mainly populated by mid-1880s teams that didn’t exist within a few years (or, in a couple of cases, months).
(The Angels play the Royals and the Mariners play the Cardinals this weekend, as well, but, well, they are the Angels and Mariners. I don’t think that is who we really are focused on when in comes to the A.L. West.)
There is the opportunity for the Rangers to really put their stamp on the A.L. West race this weekend. To announce their presence with authority, to quote Nuke LaLoosh.
And look, I am not saying that we can chalk this up as an easy three wins against the Athletics. Oakland has bedeviled the Rangers often enough in the past that none of us should be taking anything for granted. Losing 2 of 3 against the A’s — even with Gray, Heaney and deGrom slated to go — is a very real possibility. And I’m sure we all remember Baltimore sweeping the 2010 Rangers in a four game set in Arlington heading into the All Star Break, which included a thumping of new Ranger Cliff Lee.
Remember what happened, after all, when Nuke announced his presence with authority.
And the Astros are the Astros and could go into Atlanta and sweep the Braves while getting contributions from like four pitchers none of us know and we would nod our heads and say, well, of course they did, they are the Astros...
Skip, I want to ADDRESS this issue…
You KNOW I am sensitive to it just being April…
The Rangers have an opportunity this weekend.
They could get swept by Oakland, the rest of the West could sweep this weekend, and Texas would still be in sole possession of first place.
But if the Rangers take care of business — if they do in this series, with a rested team coming off an off day, what good teams are supposed to do at home against bad teams, they can give themselves more breathing room.
Teams can’t win a division in April. But they can give themselves a much easier road to winning a division in April.
And your Texas Rangers have the opportunity to make some strides in that direction this weekend.