ARLINGTON, Texas — With a high payroll and even higher expectations, the Texas Rangers embarked on their 2023 campaign with a tough task ahead of them: the defending National League champions awaited them in Arlington to kick off the season.
After signing Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney to multi-year deals, one year after issuing massive contracts to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and after bringing back pitching coach Mike Maddux and welcoming thrice over World Series Champion manager Bruce Bochy, the Rangers needed to start off strong to belay any early doubts.
One weekend later and the Rangers are 3-0 for the first time since 2011 after taking all three from Philly. Here’s a look at how Texas started hot:
The Rangers brought out the big bats over the first two games against Philadelphia, scoring 27 runs off of ace Aaron Nola, 2021 Cy Young runner-up Zack Wheeler, and the Phillies bullpen.
During that time, Corey Seager only went 2-for-7 – but he drew three walks, struck out only once and drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. Marcus Semien got rid of the home run bug that plagued him at the start of last year and led off Game 2 with a bomb. Including that, Semien went 3-for-10 with a couple of RBI. That’s a good start for the multi-million dollar duo at the top of the lineup.
The rest of the lineup did their job as well, with all but two starters in Game 1 getting a hit and every starter in Game 2 getting a knock. The two starters that didn’t get a hit in Game 1 had key appearances all their own – Josh Jung and Josh Smith both drew walks to reach base and eventually score.
Jung’s walk was a pivotal moment in Game 1 that helped propel the 9-run 4th inning with Smith also scoring in that inning. Jung homered in his first at-bat in Game 3, a poke that was muscled to the opposite field. Over the course of the three-game sweep, Texas racked up 35 hits and 29 runs.
Armed and Dangerous
Factoring in Martin Perez’s career-year performance last year, the Phillies, on paper, looked to be in for a rough weekend against deGrom, Eovaldi, and the lefty.
While deGrom cut through the top of the Philadelphia order in his debut inning like a hot knife through butter, retiring the side on 10 pitches, the next three innings were not as nice, as the right hander surrendered 5 runs on 6 hits and was removed in the fourth inning.
The bullpen came in and picked him up nicely though while the bats went to work in his stead, with Brock Burke and Jonathan Hernandez both going two innings with the off-day following the opener. The offense registered more than enough run support for deGrom, with 11 runs on the day.
Eovaldi, meanwhile, started his Rangers’ journey with a win, and looked as advertised in his debut though with a few bouts of rare command outages. The Texas-native went five innings, striking out six and giving up three runs. It wasn’t a perfect effort, nor a particularly dominating one, but with a fastball that stayed mid-to-high-90s, and some of the famous bulldog mentality that made him a playoff hero in Boston, Eovaldi did enough to help his team win the game.
The bullpen again made sure that the lead held up until the offense turned the game into a blowout, with starter-turned-reliever Dane Dunning doing exactly what he was called to do on the 2023 Major League roster and that is pick up the slack when a starter doesn’t go as deep as Bochy wants. Dunning went three perfect innings before turning it over to Taylor Hearn for the end of the game.
Perez’s 2023 season began in similar fashion as his 2022 ended. He bent a little here and there but never broke, throwing as he does, to the corners and edges of the zone and inducing contact. He faced pressure each inning, but a more zen Perez fresh off an All-Star season was able to pitch out of the trouble he put himself in, before leaving in the sixth.
For his effort, Perez went 5 ⅔ innings, giving up 8 hits, walking 3, striking out 7, but only allowing 1 run in his 98 pitches while picking up the victory.
Will Smith saw his first action of the season in the finale, being called upon to close out a tight 2-1 contest on Sunday. He did so on 15 pitches and earned the first save of the Rangers’ season and earned Texas a one-run win after they managed an historically poor 15 of them in 50 chances last season.
Started at the Bottom
Whereas deGrom was knocked out of the game relatively early on Opening Day, the lone offensive acquisition for Texas during the winter ended up with the big blow that opened the offensive floodgates. Robbie Grossman, signed near the beginning of Spring Training on a pillow contract of $2 million, ripped a 3-run homer that triggered the Rangers’ 9-run 4th. He followed that up on Saturday with a 2-hit, 2-RBI performance that contributed to the Rangers’ 16-run outburst.
Also among that outburst was Comeback Player of the Year candidate Mitch Garver. The catcher who was limited to 54 games last year before shoulder surgery knocked him out for the last half of the 2022 season, hit not one, but two 3-run homers in the middle game rout of Philadelphia.
Garver’s catching counterpart, Jonah Heim, rocketed a home run in Game 1, as well. So, too, did Brad Miller, who was the designated hitter for Game 1. All in all, the bottom third of the lineup did a fantastic job for Texas, going 8-for-20 with 11 RBI and 10 runs scored.
The Right Foot
Nobody’s saying that this team will go undefeated, but things look pretty good so far for Texas. While the Phillies were missing Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins from their lineup, they are still, for the most part, the defending National League champions. Sweeping them to start the season is nothing to scoff at, and if there was hope before 3:05 Central Standard Time on Thursday, there’s a great deal more now that the proof of concept has been seen in action.
Have your opinions changed on the Rangers after seeing them sweep the reigning National League champs? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.