It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers have gone from underachieving cast-offs to the hottest team in baseball over the past two weeks. Entering Tuesday, they had won 11 of their last 12 games and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps in the American League West standings.
It has been an impressive showing for a team that in the initial stages of the year looked like it had massively regressed despite being built to win. A year after winning 95 games and the AL West by a nine-game margin, Texas looked to be lost at sea in 2017. The bullpen failed the Rangers, injuries zapped the club of many of its most important assets, and both the youthful core and recent acquisitions failed to develop or deliver.
As a result, the club stumbled out of the blocks, falling as far as 8.5 games back of the division-leading and AL-best Houston Astros. In the process, the Rangers lost ace Cole Hamels for what could be two months due to a strained oblique and had to reorganize their bullpen after the early struggles of Sam Dyson pushed Matt Bush into the closer role. This added to the injury issues that have kept Adrian Beltre out of action since spring training and more recently claimed Carlos Gomez and Jake Diekman.
Yet amid this, the Rangers began to pull things together after looking dead in the water to begin the month. Beat-up and stuck in last place, things began to come together in Arlington on May 12, when the team finished its second walk-off victory in as many days. It was the fourth consecutive win for the Rangers, matching their longest win streak of the year (at the time), and it finally pulled them out of the cellar in the AL West. But the best things were yet to come, as this was the springboard for what would become an 10-game victory streak for the club, the longest run of success in the young MLB season.
It became a night and day divide for the club. When the streak finally came to an end nearly two weeks later, the Rangers sat in second place in the AL West and finally pulled above .500 for the first time this season.
A cocktail of events occurred to propel the Rangers back to respectability. During their dismal April, where they went 11-14, the team combined for a .220/.298/.392 split line. In the new month, that dormant offense has finally come to life, especially over the last two weeks. Five regulars for the club have hit over .300 in the last week, led by a pair of .400 marks from Delino DeShields Jr. and Mike Napoli. In addition, the prodigious power of Napoli has been on display more frequently. His season home run total is now up to 10 after he connected for a mammoth 452-foot shot Sunday night.
The revival of Jonathan Lucroy has been essential as well. After an April that ranks among the worst months of his career, the All-Star catcher caught fire and played a vital role in sparking the overall Texas resurgence. He is hitting .357 and slugging .554 in May after a dismal .206/.242/.286 April effort, which saw him nearly splitting time evenly with Robinson Chirinos at a point. Those days are well behind him now, as he is riding a nine-game hitting streak and continuing to author great games as a signal caller for a pitching staff gutting it out without Hamels.
Speaking of which, the secret strength of the Rangers of late has been a pitching staff that has somewhat defied logic in its success. Texas pitching has allowed 20 less runs in May as opposed to April and has only allowed more than four runs twice in the last 11 games. Despite being down its top gun in Hamels, the staff carries the fourth best ERA in the American League. The starters boast the lowest rotation ERA in the AL at 3.54. This is led by the efforts of Yu Darvish, who sits in the league’s top three in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. At the end of games, Matt Bush, who inherited the closer role after Dyson’s injury, has been lights-out. The first-time closer is averaging over 11 strikeouts per nine innings, while working to a 1.10 ERA.
Yet for all the success the team is experiencing, the circumstances under which this resurrection has occurred is questionable. The 10-game win streak was built up against the Athletics, Padres, Phillies and Tigers, teams that carry a combined .412 win percentage on the year. No team has played a lighter schedule to date than the Rangers either, so in a way, this streak was their just due but does not tell the entire story. When they open Tuesday’s series with the Boston Red Sox, it will mark the first AL East opponent they’ve played this year. The AL East boasts the highest divisional win percentage in the league at .524. Conversely, the Rangers have struggled mightily against teams over .500, compiling a 2-8 record against winning clubs at the time they faced them.
So, does that discredit the impressive streak the club constructed? Absolutely not, nor does it take away from the fact that this veteran-laden team is performing at a clip closer to expectations. But it does leave open reasonable doubt about whether the Rangers can play at that clip against higher levels of competition. Those worries can be tied to the facts that surround some of the biggest fault lines in the team’s early struggles, which are still unresolved.
Whether they can permanently turn the corner and prove this recent success is not just a plateau moment revolves around if the pitching can answer the call. This is because that league-best ERA is a bit of a misleading fact. Outside of Darvish’s expected excellence, the rotation is littered with red flags. Andrew Casher, the owner of a 2.45 ERA, has walked two more batters than he has struck out. Martin Perez is struggling to miss bats (6.3 Ks per 9) and has a WHIP over 1.50. A.J. Griffin has an ERA over 5.00 and is on pace to allow 40 home runs after letting up seven in his last two starts. In addition, the Texas bullpen continues to be the Achilles heel for the second year in a row. The group checks in having allowed the most hits of any pen in the AL and is in the lower third of the league in ERA and WHIP as well. It is a unit that should be avoided as often as possible until necessary but cannot be if the starters cannot go deep into games.
All in all, the Rangers have shown their potential, but now it is time to prove. On one hand, they have done what they were supposed to do: beat teams they are more talented than, finally. Yet with their return to contention, the team also could be faced with a swift reality check. With three series against AL East opponents and the top two teams in each league in the Astros and Washington Nationals on the horizon, the time is now to prove if the win streak was a breakthrough or just a passing sign of a team that is better than the bottom but not ready for the best.

Yardbarker: MLB

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