Two weeks ago, the Texas Rangers were dead-last in the AL West. (Yeah, behind even Oakland.) Now, they’re in second place—still solidly behind the best-in-baseball Houston Astros, but holding onto a ten-game winning streak and the fifth-best record in the American League scarcely a fortnight after they seemed as good as hopeless.
It might seem easy to caveat this winning streak with the fact that it’s come at the hands of some very weak competition and leave it at that: playing the Padres, Athletics and Phillies can do that, with something tougher finally coming this weekend against the Tigers. But Texas has been playing like a wholly different team over this stretch.
Plenty of things went poorly for the Rangers over the first month or so of the season. Their bullpen was imploding, they were without Adrian Beltre, they got swept in their season-opening series and never managed to climb to .500. But the biggest reason for their struggles was singularly clear—their offense was terrible. Through April, they ranked in the bottom-third of almost every meaningful offensive metric and worse than that in many of them. Just three of their everyday players were at or above-average at the plate. Struggling more than anyone was Mike Napoli, hitting .146/.224/.281, which is bad stripped of context but far worse when you remember that it’s coming from a first baseman-slash-designated hitter. Nomar Mazara was floundering in the start to his sophomore season, and Jonathan Lucroy was making his reputation as a good-hitting catcher look not like a myth but like a bewildering lie that couldn’t possibly be rooted in any reality. Only Joey Gallo managed to be something of a bright spot—bringing the monster power he’s long promised, albeit alongside the metric ton of strikeouts that he’s always made part of that.
But all of that has looked different lately. Over the past two weeks, Texas has been among the best offenses in baseball—sixth in the all-encompassing offensive metric wRC+ with a mark of 116, slashing a collective .275/.359/.438. Most of the players who had been toiling along as empty imitations of their worst selves are suddenly hitting hot, with Napoli, Mazara and Lucroy all slugging over. 600 in that time.
Meanwhile, their pitching—which was never great, though not as pressing an issue as the total lack of offensive—has seen a similarly dramatic turnaround. Even while losing Cole Hamels to an oblique strain, their rotation has posted the best team ERA in baseball over the past two weeks. (Albeit with peripheral stats that suggest it won’t last: a 2.73 ERA, with a FIP of 3.87 and some good batted-ball luck with a BABIP of .273.) The bullpen hasn’t made quite as significant a transformation, but they have pulled out of the negative numbers when it comes to their impact on the team’s win probability.
The past two weeks have shown us, essentially, most of the team performing at or near their best after a month of everyone at their complete worst. It can’t and won’t stay like this forever—but how the Rangers play going forward should be closer to who they are right now than to who they were last month.