Half and half-nots.
The Rangers were on a crazy tear, having won seven straight to run their record to 11-2, capped by a spanking of the Tigers in the first of four in Detroit, 10-3.
Matt Harrison and Rick Porcello were slated to face off the next night, in what would be a rematch of Game Four of the 2011 ALCS, a game in Tiger Stadium that was delayed by two hours before Texas scored four in the 11th inning to take a dramatic 7-3 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Rain interfered with Harrison-Porcello again this time, wiping out the Friday night, April 20 matchup and setting up a Saturday day-night doubleheader.
That April 21 twinbill turned out to be sort of defining, and not the way anyone expected.
Coming off a 19-hit attack in that Thursday night series opener, the Rangers rapped seven hits before making their second out of the game on Saturday afternoon, taking an 8-0 lead against Porcello right out of the gate. Ultimately, eight different Rangers had multi-hit games, Harrison was outstanding, and Texas ran its win streak to eight and its margin over the rest of the division to a season-high 5.5 games, just two weeks into the schedule.
The Rangers were 12-2. They’d played 14 games.
They’ve played another 14 games since then.
In those first 14 games, the Texas rotation had a 2.46 ERA, limiting opponents to a .224 batting average.
In the 14 games since, the rotation ERA is 5.13, with a .286 opponents’ average.
The bullpen’s actually been better (2.43/.232 in the first 14 games, 1.62/.140 in the second 14). The black cloud there, of course, is that bad starts leads to more relief innings, and too much bullpen use early in the season can have repercussions (though it’s not quite as unsettling as the Angels losing LaTroy Hawkins yesterday to a broken finger, two pitches after closer Scott Downs had buckled to the ground with an apparent knee injury).
And the offense?
Nelson Cruz hit .276/.311/.448 in the first 14 games, and .151/.224/.189 since.
Mike Napoli: .279/.373/.721 and .195/.277/.268.
Michael Young: .400/.411/.545 and .232/.283/.386.
Ian Kinsler: .328/.418/.690 and .241/.338/.345
Collectively, the Texas offense hit .313/.364/.527 in helping to build that 12-2 record to start the season.
The Rangers have hit .254/.325/.383 since, a stretch in which the club has gone 6-8.
Just as the bullpen has stepped its game up in this little skid, Adrian Beltre’s productivity has been a bit of an outlier. He hit .304/.344/.482 in the season’s first 14 games. He’s hit .345/.367/.724 since then.
The problem, of course, is that he’s only had 29 at-bats in the team’s second 14 games, after 56 at-bats in the first 14.
Beltre pulled up lame on a double in the second inning of that April 21 day game, missing the rest of that game and three more after that with inflammation in his left hamstring before returning to the lineup. He DH’d in the first of three in Toronto last Monday, coming up big in a 4-1 win with two doubles and a single, but hasn’t made a start since, pinch-hitting in four of five games and sitting the other one out altogether.
The Rangers have missed Beltre’s steady offense a lot. The effect of his absence defensively doesn’t need any elaboration.
So now it’s on to Baltimore for four, a series that strangely might have been more dangerous if the Orioles weren’t playing as well as they are. The Rangers have spit it up against Baltimore more often they should have the last few years, and with the Angels at home this weekend there would seem to be the risk of looking past this set of four against the Orioles.
But Baltimore has baseball’s best record at 19-9. No matter how long that will last, the Orioles are playing well and can’t be overlooked.
And neither, despite a two-week skid, can the Rangers. It’s an obvious point, but a stretch of bad baseball – especially one in which the starting pitching is scuffling and the offense looks confused – has a way of making things seem a lot worse than they really are, just as that 12-2 record to start the season felt deceivingly invincible.
It’s going to be OK. Texas (who still sits at number one in ESPN’s Power Rankings, according to Buster Olney) leads the West by 3.5 games, the biggest lead in the American League. The Angels took a step forward with their bullpen by acquiring Ernesto Frieri on Thursday but may have been set two steps back yesterday with the injuries to Downs and Hawkins. Chris Davis shouldn’t be able to pitch today, after throwing 23 pitches yesterday.
Davis was actually just one of seven Baltimore relievers to throw at least 20 pitches yesterday, which puts the burden on Brian Matusz (whose lengthiest outing this year is 6.1 innings) to go late into the game tonight, and on the Texas offense to make him throw lots of pitches to bust that game plan up.
Hopefully Cruz can capitalize on a healthy history against Matusz (4 for 7, two doubles and a homer) as he tries to relocate his rhythm, and Beltre can return to the lineup now that Texas has escaped the artificial turf in Toronto and the crisp weather in Cleveland.
It’s early, and things are going to be fine, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d sort of appreciate a good showing in Baltimore while the Angels visit the sad-sack Twins, preferring that when Los Angeles comes to town this weekend, even with more than 130 games to go, the distance between the Rangers and Angels isn’t all that much closer than the 6.5 games that separate the two clubs right now.