The first quarter.
When Yu Darvish completed the top of the fifth inning on Friday night, a crisp 11-pitch frame against perhaps the most dangerous heart of a lineup in the league, Texas had reached the quarter pole of the 2013 season. Torii Hunter bunted out, Miguel Cabrera grounded out to Mitch Moreland, Prince Fielder singled to right, and Victor Martinez flew out to center.
At that point, Darvish had allowed four runs in those five innings on seven hits (including two homers and a double), an intentional walk, a wild pitch, and two run-scoring sac flies. Not a particularly sharp effort for the Rangers’ ace, at least to that point in the game, but this was the most productive offense in the American League he was facing, and it was good enough to win.
The next two nights, Texas would throw its number seven and number eight starters at the Detroit offense, and be without Ian Kinsler, its most sabermetrically productive offensive player, in both games. The Rangers’ starting catcher remained out of action, leaving the club’s beleaguered backup and recently designated-for-assignment call-up to handle number seven on Friday night and number eight on Saturday.
Number seven held the Tigers to two runs over five innings in what would be a 2-1 loss – just the Rangers’ third loss in one-run games out of 12.
Number eight held Detroit to two runs over 6.2 frames in a decisive 7-2 win.
A win that was the Rangers’ 28th of the year. No other team in baseball has as many.
Texas sits at 28-15, good for baseball’s best record, and the best 43-game record in franchise history.
The club’s +51 run differential is baseball’s best.
The Rangers’ 6.5-game edge in the AL West exceeds the other five division leads (1.0 + 1.0 + 1.5 + 1.5 + 1.0) combined. The seven-game lead they’d built after Darvish-Verlander was the first such lead this early in a season since Boston and Milwaukee led their divisions by as much in 2007.
The Rangers have played 25 road games. Twenty-eight of the other 29 teams have played fewer.
The club has yet to lose a game it led at some point by two runs or more, probably more meaningful than its 3-0 record when Robinson Chirinos starts behind the plate.
Except Chirinos has caught Nick Tepesch, a secretly injured Alexi Ogando, and Justin Grimm. Number seven, an ailing number five, and number seven.
I still like the two-run lead note better.
MLB.com’s Richard Justice is the latest of the national writers to pen a sentence like this one: “Few people were picking the Rangers to finish in front of the A’s and Angels in the AL West after an offseason in which they traded their clubhouse leader, Michael Young, and lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and two key relievers, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.”
Every time I see that particular column, I hear in my head Jon Daniels’s comment, issued as early as November and as recently as this week, which never sounded like spin or bluster coming from him:
“We like our team.”
It’s Derek Holland vs. Doug Fister tonight, in front of a national TV audience.
Then tomorrow Josh Lindblom – number nine – makes his Rangers debut against Bartolo Colon and the A’s. Lindblom has appeared in 101 big league games with the Dodgers and Phillies, zero of which have been starts. Before this season, his last 65 minor league appearances had been out of the bullpen. But Texas, having acquired Lindblom from the Phillies in the Young trade this winter, saw something different, and the 25-year-old was off to a 4-0, 2.08 start out of the Round Rock rotation (.173/.232/.295 slash) when word emerged that he’d be recalled for Monday’s start in place of the injured Ogando.
He’s the Rangers’ number nine starter (I suppose number 10 if you’re in the Neftali-Feliz-as-starter camp, which I’m not), and I’m very interested in what happens tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, the draft approaches, and then the international free agent sign date, and then the trade deadline becomes a big part of the focus. This organization has given us lots of reason to feel good about those things, too.
These are, still, the good old days.
Last year proved that really good stories can have horror endings, but really good stories are better than the alternative, and I suspect you’d rather take the best record in baseball at the completion of the first quarter and whatever’s behind Door Number One as far as 162+ is concerned than to be invested in what’s going on in Los Angeles.
We like our team.