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Successful homestand gives Rangers hope for summer

It's now mid-June and the Rangers remain in the playoff chase despite a season where they weren't supposed to make much noise

DALLAS — There are a few points in the schedule every year where a team’s (and its fanbase’s) eyes light up. One of those points is when they see that they have the two worst teams in the league coming to the home ballpark for back-to-back series. 

For their part, the Texas Rangers were able to take their good fortune from the schedule makers and do their job against the last place Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles. With them dispatched accordingly, Texas followed that up by doing about as well as could be expected against an Oakland team they’ve always had issues with. 

More important than just wins and losses from the Athletics series was the next wave of pitchers that were able to hang with the big boys, if only for just one weekend, and show that they’re worth believing in for the next few years.

RELATED: In between wins against A's, Texas Rangers retire Adrián Beltré's number

In front of some large crowds, the largest of which came out to see Adrian Beltre’s number 29 retired on Saturday night, the Rangers had themselves a fun little successful homestand where they finished 7-4 and propelled themselves into the postseason conversation. 

And, sure, it's a extremely early to be having that kind of talk but no one was expecting the Rangers to be anywhere near that discussion this season and it's now mid-June and they're right there in the middle of it.

May 30-June 9

  • Opponents: Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics
  • 11-Game Record: 7-4
  • Overall Record: 34-30, 2nd Place in AL West, 9.5 Games Back of Houston; Second Wild Card, 1 Game Up on Boston
  • Notable Injury Report: Edinson Volquez (60, Right Elbow Strain), Taylor Hearn (60, Left Elbow Tightness), Willie Calhoun (10, Left Quad Strain), Joey Gallo (10, Left Oblique Strain), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (10, Right Finger Sprain)
  • MVPs: Adrian Sampson (CG vs. OAK, 9.0 IP, 4 H, 1ER, 1BB, 7K, 109 pitches), Pete Fairbanks (2.0 IP, 3K), Elvis Andrus (13-for-49), Tim Federowicz (arrived Friday night, caught three rookies Saturday afternoon, 3-Run HR)

With the Bat

The Rangers continue to rake during the day at home, a traditional franchise staple. They’ve scored 10 or more runs in 6 of 22 games and won 9 of their last 13 day affairs. They came very close to making that 10 of 13, but fell one run shy in the finale against Oakland. The point is that, when the 2019 Rangers go down, they go down swinging and swinging hard. 

RELATED: Texas Rangers remain relevant entering summer months

In addition to the 9th inning storm of offense on Sunday, Texas also walked off against Baltimore on Wednesday and created some absolutely thrilling baseball in the opener against Baltimore on Tuesday despite a 12-11 loss. This team seems to thrive in pressure situations and works on grinding out at-bats against starters and relievers alike. 

Individually, both Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor showed some extremely promising signs in the Oakland series. Rougie’s struggles have been well documented. In the four-game series against Oakland, however, Odor went 5-for-14 and had an absolutely energizing straight steal of home in Sunday's finale. He also drew three walks and had some extremely competitive at-bats against the Athletics. 

Andrus has been looking to get his footing under him since returning from the injured list. He went 6-for-19 against Oakland, and after finishing May with just a .234/.253/.312 slash, Andrus is at .268/.256/.390 so far in June.

We can’t ignore Delino DeShields’ return either. With Joey Gallo hitting the injured list and possibly being out for longer than the 10-day minimum, DeShields is getting another chance in the big leagues. He has made the most of it so far, and it was especially evident in the Baltimore series where DeShields hit .500 in the three-game set. 

Once Texas gets Willie Calhoun and Gallo back, there may be no place for Delino to play, but he’s definitely showcasing himself well enough for Texas to consider shopping him as July approaches. Of course, if they end up dealing a revitalized Hunter Pence and/or veteran Shin-Soo Choo, Deshields may be staying around. Baseball has a way of working itself out and that’s a different article topic for a few weeks from now. 

On the Mound

Yes, you’re right – Drew Smyly is the black hole in the rotation that keeps on sucking. Two starts in a row, the lefty has been unable to escape the fourth inning. He gave up seven runs against Baltimore and five against Oakland, both losses where Texas scored a combined 19 runs but weren't able to dig out of the holes that Smyly had dug for them. 

The issues have developed as a consistent struggle for Smyly, and on a serious playoff team, there’s no way that he would continue to have a spot on the roster. Unfortunately, even with Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson showing that they can be Major League pitchers (at least, this year), the Rangers still have a need for whatever innings they can get from that fifth spot. That’s Smyly. 

Don’t go thinking Joe Palumbo, who went an admirable four innings in his Major League debut, is going to be sticking around the big league club right now. Palumbo still has work to do in Nashville and that will come after he finishes learning in Frisco. Honestly, the fifth spot in the rotation is best suited for Smyly – an arm to get them innings and let the young pitchers continue to develop. No need to keep pushing the development envelope on the other arms in the system in a year where the expectations are low, even with surprising success.

But we can talk about trio of Joe Palumbo, Phillips Valdez and Adrian Sampson, who, in addition to incumbent-but-still-rookie reliever Jeffrey Springs, saved the bullpen’s heavy hitters during this stretch of 21 games in 20 days with their effort during Saturday's doubleheader sweep. 

After Smyly’s ridiculously poor outing in the first of these games on Tuesday, it looked like the bullpen was going to be heavily taxed during the next three weeks. The effort put forth by the above four pitchers righted the ship and got everyone else ready to face some more advanced lineups in Boston. Sampson, especially, throwing a complete game against an admittedly tired A's team, was a huge boon to Chris Woodward’s club.

Then there’s Pete Fairbanks. Fairbanks, who also made his Major League debut against Oakland (the third of three debuts over the weekend for Texas) on Sunday, showcased some incredible stuff. The lanky right hander, featuring a short-arm delivery and fastballs in excess of 98 mph, also broke off some disgusting breaking balls that seemed to tag team with gravity with how sharply they dropped. Fairbanks undoubtedly will be getting some high-leverage opportunities in Boston.

In the Field

With Isiah Kiner-Falefa going down with a finger sprain, the club found itself without a backup catcher. Jose Trevino is injured and Jett Bandy and Adam Moore are needed in Nashville in the meantime. Although it wouldn’t have been a stretch to see Bandy brought up for a week and a half. Instead, the team went out and acquired another defense-first, journeyman catcher in Tim Federowicz. 

Federowicz, who has spent time with the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Astros and Reds, joined the Rangers late Friday night and was given the assignment of guiding rookie starter Joe Palumbo through his debut. On top of that, in addition to also guiding another debuting pitcher in Phillips Valdez, Federowicz smacked a key three-run homer in the first game of the doubleheader against the A’s. 

Is Kiner-Falefa in danger of losing his job? Probably not. Is Jeff Mathis? One might look at the two-year contract and say no, but it’s only for $6.25 million over the two seasons – and the defensive capabilities that Mathis was signed for don’t appear to be showing themselves has clearly as they have in the past. 

On the year, Mathis is only at a 9% caught stealing success rate. That’s 2018 Robinson Chirinos level bad. His catcher ERA, 4.27, is as bad as its been in four years, when he had a 4.72 in 2015, in fewer games overall with a terrible Miami Marlins team. Maybe this writer is reading too much into it, but the acquisition of Tim Federowicz might be more of an indicator for Mathis than for Kiner-Falefa. And no, I don’t think this team is at the point where they can carry three catchers.

At Least They’re Not…

The Toronto Blue Jays

Despite featuring Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Cavan Biggio, the Canadian MLB franchise has lost 14 of their last 17 games. Their offense has only posted a .161 batting average – just 18 hits in that time frame. Around two wins in New York, Toronto was swept by Tampa Bay, Colorado and Arizona. Obviously Toronto, who sits in fourth place in the AL East, is in the midst of a rebuild. They just extended the contract of their GM Ross Atkins, but it’s going to be just as long a season for Toronto as it is going to be for Baltimore.

Up Next

  • June 10-13: @Boston Red Sox
  • June 14-16: @Cincinnati Reds

Do you think that the Rangers will be able to continue their winning ways throughout the summer? Share your thoughts on the team thus far with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.