BY: Richard W. Humphrey
“Home sweet home” does not apply to the Texas Rangers. Wednesday afternoon, they finished another .500 road trip going 3-3 and winning just their second series of the year, both on the road. The Rangers are 8-8 on the road and 4-12 at home. They are 2-7-1 in their first 10 series of the season.
As improbable as the home/road records look, winning on the road is even more improbable with the rag tag lineups manager Jeff Banister has been forced to put on the field. Injuries to Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor have shelved three-fourths of the Ranger starting infield. The roster shuffling has forced first baseman Joey Gallo to play mainly left field. So the Rangers went 3-3 on this road trip without the projected starting infield.
The two main replacements that weren’t expected to be in Arlington until much later in the season – Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronald Guzman – are more than holding their own. Kiner-Falefa is hitting .278 with a pair of home runs. He has two four-hit games under his belt among the 20 he has played. Bear in mind that he hit just five home runs total in his minor league career, and they all came last year at AA Frisco.
Guzman is hitting a less gaudy .212, but there have been some important hits late in games, and he is a really good defensive first baseman.
There is also Jurickson Profar. The once highly touted shortstop prospect looked anything but when first forced into the lineup. He made too many errors, most of the throwing variety. He didn’t hit much. However, the regular playing time has improved his play on both sides of the ball. He has been getting regular extra work defensively from coaches Tony Beasley and Steve Buechele prior to games, and it is showing.
The trip started with the Rangers taking the first two games against Toronto last weekend. The Friday night 6-4 win over the Jays was the first of the season in game one of a series. Mike Minor copped the win, pitching six innings and allowing four runs on nine hits. The Rangers staked him to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning, with two of the four coming on Gallo’s eighth home run. Toronto tied the game with single runs in the first and third innings and pair in the second. Minor stiffened after that, finishing his outing with three shutout innings.
The Rangers meanwhile struck for two more runs in their half of the sixth, both coming on a Guzman single. Four relievers shut out the Jays over the final three innings. Minor is 2-1 with the win, and Keone Kela earned his fifth save. The Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman continues to struggle. He’s 0-3, 8.88 with the loss. Two of the three losses have been at the hands of the Rangers.
Texas had won their last game before the road trip, so when they won again on Saturday by a 7-4 score, they had their longest winning streak of the season – three games. “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon gave up three runs over seven innings for his first win as a Ranger.
Ranger batters backed Colon’s effort with three home runs, including Profar’s first of the year. Texas took charge with three runs in the third inning, and extended the lead to 5-0 with two more in the fourth inning. Toronto answered with single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh off Colon. Texas added single runs in the sixth and ninth innings, with the sixth inning run coming on Robinson Chirinos’s second home run of the game. Kevin Jepson gave up Toronto’s final run in the ninth.
The winning streak came to a halt on Sunday. The Jays avoided a sweep by tagging Martin Perez with three home runs in four innings. They won 7-2. Perez is 2-3, 9.67 after the loss and was placed on the disabled list the next day.
On Monday, the Rangers’ bullpen woes showed up again. The Rangers scored two runs in the eighth to take a 4-3 lead. They needed just six outs for the win, but Chris Martin, one of the more reliable bullpen hands, simply didn’t have it. He couldn’t finish the inning and was charged with four earned runs on four hits. He left with a neck injury and was placed on the disabled list.
The Rangers’ ninth inning rally fell short. Nomar Mazara drove in one run, and the tying runs were on base when Gallo was called out on strikes to end the game.
The bullpen woes undid a fine start from Cole Hamels. He pitched the first five innings, allowing two runs, just one of which was earned. He didn’t come out for the sixth after needing 104 pitches to finish the five innings.
Martin (0-1) was charged with the loss and a blown save, his second blown save.
Tuesday’s game was one of the most entertaining of the year dragging Ranger fans to, from and to again emotional highs. The Rangers played a fine game behind Doug Fister’s longest outing of the year.
They scored two runs in the fifth inning on Delino DeShields’ first home run of the year and a pair of doubles from Shin-Soo Choo and Profar. Profar doubled home two more in the seventh inning with two outs to double the lead to 4-0. The game looked all but in the bag when Mazara followed with his fourth home run of the year to run the score to 6-0.
The Tribe tagged Fister for two unearned runs in their half of the seventh, and the score was still 6-2 with two outs in the ninth inning and two strikes on Michael Brantley. Banister chose to bring in Kela to pitch the ninth even though it wasn’t a save situation. Brantley however, foiled the plan with a grand slam home run that tied the game. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a single to put the potential winning run on base for Cleveland, but Kela struck out Yonder Alonso to push the game into extra innings.
Alex Claudio started the tenth inning. 2018 has been a struggle for the Rangers’ 2017 “Pitcher of Year”, but he was magnificent Tuesday night. He threw three shutout innings, allowing just two hits. Gallo and Kiner-Falefa hit back-to-back home runs in the Rangers’ 12th inning for the 8-6 win. Eight runs scored set a new season high for Texas.
Wednesday afternoon’s rubber match of the series was decided early as Ranger starter Matt Moore had nothing. Cleveland struck for four runs in the first inning and five more in the second. After three innings, Moore had faced 21 batters. Twelve reached base on 11 hits and a walk. Included were six extra base hits – three home runs and three doubles. Ten scored.
The Rangers answered with home runs from Nomar Mazara and Juan Centeno, but the score was 10-2 after three innings, and the outcome was decided. Texas added two runs late, one on Gallo’s 10th home run. The Tribe also scored two runs late on a pair of home runs, one of which was Encarnacion’s third round tripper of the game.
It was a disappointing finish to the road trip, but playing .500 ball away from home is good. The Rangers have closed to within eight games of first place Houston, but are still four games behind fourth place Oakland (five in the loss column).
The Rangers open a seven game home stand Thursday evening with the first of four games against Boston. Last year, the Rangers went 1-5 against the Red Sox. It’s Boston’s only trip to Arlington this season. The announced Ranger starting pitchers for the series are Mike Minor, Bartolo Colon, Cole Hamels and Doug Fister.
* Bartolo Colon was named the Rangers’ “Player of the Month” for April. He was 1-0 with a 2.87 ERA in six games, including four starts.
* The Rangers finished the season series with Toronto with each team winning three games.
* The Rangers claimed catcher Carlos Perez on waivers Wednesday. To make room for him on the 40-man roster, Elvis Andrus was moved to the 60-day disabled list. A move to add Perez to the active roster will be made Thursday.