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A loss.

Boston has the American League’s fourth-best record, but you’d have a tough time convincing me they’re not one of the two best teams in the AL.

They were visiting the best team in the league last night.

Two beasts going toe to toe.  

Both offenses knocked around some very good big league pitching, and capitalized a bunch.  On a night when there were 25 hits, seven for extra bases, the teams combined for more runs (15) than runners left on base (14).  

The other guys were slightly more opportunistic.

That’s all.

The best players in the game don’t always get it done, because there are often extremely good players on the other side counter-punching.

Sports.

It wasn’t the best night for the Rangers, as far as the ultimate measure goes, and as a result, with still another week to go before the season’s midpoint, they’re 20 games over .500.

The other guys capitalized more Friday night.

OK.

Another baseball game awaits.  And then 87 more after that.

And then, because this is one of the best teams in baseball, more after that.

Let’s go.

Surpluses and deficits.

There are too many middle infielders, and there will be a trade.  

The 23-year-old could go in July or the winter.  The 27-year-old could go, but in the winter only.  The 22-year-old almost surely doesn’t go at all.

Not fun to think about, but one is going to go away and it’s going to improve some other area of the club significantly.

There are too many catchers, and before long one will be with another team.

Also unfortunate, in a way, but it’s far better than the opposite problem. 

Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland are probably moving on after 2016, two guys who are three months from their 31st birthday and five months from entertaining offers to land the longest-term contracts of their careers.

Lewis Brinson and Ryan Cordell and Delino DeShields are keeping an eye on where center field goes from here.

Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman envision first base with “Texas” across the chest.

The Stars wonder where they’re going to find a goaltender.

The Cowboys wonder where they’re going to find their next quarterback.

The Mavs wonder where they’re going find young players who are good at basketball.

Where the other local teams have crucial big-picture holes to fill, the Rangers have crucial logjams to sort out.

And the most wins and the biggest division lead in baseball, which is also the first lead of double-digit games the Rangers have ever had in the first half (or in fact at any time before September).

Last night’s win over the Reds put Texas there, and while the two-game split broke a string of 10 straight series wins and 11 straight at home, Wednesday was a day headlined not by Texas 6, Cincinnati 4 but instead by Derek Holland (shoulder inflammation) landing on the disabled list and Colby Lewis (lat muscle strain) headed there himself, joining Yu Darvish and leaving only Cole Hamels and Martin Perez as healthy members of the envisioned rotation.

And if the news on Holland and Lewis wasn’t enough, we were also treated to the announcement that minor league righthander Michael Matuella, returning from collegiate Tommy John surgery (that knocked him from the top of the first round last summer to the third round, where Texas took him), came out of his pro debut on Friday with a sprained ligament in his elbow.  His year is done after three innings, though no surgery is expected.

The big club’s win silver-lined an otherwise really cloudy day.

Nick Martinez will start for Darvish tomorrow against Boston.  

A.J. Griffin will start for Lewis on Saturday.  

Monday’s starter in Yankee Stadium could be Chi Chi Gonzalez or Kyle Lohse or, I suppose, the interesting Connor Sadzeck.

Not entirely pleasant — the Lewis injury in particular was bemoaned by Jon Daniels as a “kick in the gut” given what the warrior has been through, what he has accomplished this season, and the respect he commands in the clubhouse — but this is the nature of pitching and, fortunately, Texas has built a commanding win-loss cushion that it may need in order to withstand what’s to come.

Or the club may keep cooking.  Griffin, Martinez, and Cesar Ramos have made 11 of the club’s 73 starts, part of a rotation that boasts an American League-best 3.61 starters’ ERA (and an impressive opponents’ slash of .244/.313/.391, good for a .704 OPS).  That trio’s ERA in their 11 starts: a more-than-acceptable 3.88.

Exactly one year ago today, Jon Morosi (Fox Sports) tweeted that the Rangers and Phillies were discussing Hamels, who was willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to Texas.  Morosi noted at the time that the Rangers “expect to have Perez, [Matt] Harrison, and Holland back in [the] rotation this season, but they view Hamels as [an] elite upgrade worth pursuing.”

Today, it’s not Perez, Harrison, and Holland that Texas waits on, but instead Holland, Darvish, and Lewis.  

The Rangers are 10 games up.  

A year ago today, they were 3.5 games back.  And played 162+.

The pitching doesn’t boast the surplus that the middle infield or catcher position does, and maybe not the long-term blueprint depth that there is in center field and at first base.  It never does, for any team.  That’s the nature of pitching.

But those two situations are intertwined.

Morosi tweeted yesterday, on the heels of the Holland announcement and before word came down on Lewis: “[The] Rangers [are] solidly in [the] market for [a] starter, now that Derek Holland has joined Yu Darvish on the disabled list.” 

Having Cordell and Guzman reemerge this spring, for instance, gives Texas added trade pieces.  Cordell isn’t at Brinson’s level as a center field prospect and Guzman isn’t Gallo, but they’ve boosted their own trade value and, if a blockbuster trade opportunity emerges that necessitates Brinson or Gallo in the conversation, there’s now some added protection on the farm at their positions.

And as far as center field goes, if that 27-year-old shortstop is moved in the winter, which would likely be on the table only if the 23-year-old is still here and has given the organization confidence that the shoulder can handle the everyday workload at that position, maybe the contract savings is allocated toward keeping Desmond around to hold center field down for the first half of a four- five-year deal, before he moves to a corner.

There’s an entire column I want to write about what Ryan Rua’s greatest value to this team is, but that will have to wait, and I’m guessing someone else may write it first anyway.

What will also have to wait is a breakdown of what it might take to get Chris Sale or Sonny Gray or Jose Fernandez or Julio Teheran or Jake Odorizzi or Drew Pomeranz, and how all those surpluses Texas has developed could come into specific, targeted, viable play.  This is not yet the time for that discussion.

Unless, perhaps, you are Jon Daniels.

Texas 4, Baltimore 3 and alternate endings.

The Texas Rangers are great at baserunning and great at comebacks and great at baseball, and I want to tell you a story.

Jonathan Schoop is from the same hometown as Jurickson Profar, the budding baseball hotbed of Willemstad, Curacao.  They were Little League World Series teammates.  

Mark Trumbo is 30 and Ian Desmond is 30 and both were drafted out of high school in 2004 (Trumbo in Round 18 by Anaheim, Desmond in Round 3 by Montreal), a few weeks before Schoop and Profar’s team beat the Thousand Oaks, California club to win that year’s Little League World Series championship, and at the moment Trumbo and Desmond are the quintessential examples of how a pillow contract is supposed to work out for a player.

It was the ninth inning last night, and with two outs Chris Davis was on third base as the tying run and Trumbo was on first base as the lead run and Schoop, 2 for 4 on the night, stood in at the plate, facing Sam Dyson.

Schoop stepped in, not Profar, and Profar likes to win baseball games in the ninth but Schoop isn’t Profar.

Trumbo was on first, not Desmond, and I’m going to suggest the game might have ended differently if the roles were reversed.  

Texas was one out away from another come-from-behind victory and a one-game sweep (as well as a club-record 10 straight series wins).  Baltimore was 90 feet away from tying the game.

Schoop fouled off Dyson’s first pitch, his 13th of the night and 33rd in the space of about 30 hours.

Dyson likes to make batters hit ground balls, but Trumbo didn’t think that likelihood through the way I’d like to believe Desmond — the most productive player in baseball this year as far as FanGraphs’ Win Probability Added metric is concerned (and the league’s best baserunner) — would have.

Schoop pounded Dyson’s 34th pitch in two days, 96 and diving, low and away, into the ground just in front of the plate, pull side.  

Adrian Beltre, ranging directly toward second base just as an equally unspeedy Trumbo did so from the opposite corner, waited for the chopper to float down into his glove.

Davis dashed home, hoping to arrive as the tying run.

Beltre halted the bounding ball’s insane hang time, gathered it from his glove, and two steps toward second later short-armed a toss to Rougned Odor, stretched toward Beltre in an effort to meet ball before Trumbo met bag.

Trumbo hadn’t thought it through.

This is what was happening a split-second before the scorekeeper looked down to record the official game time.

Trumbo slide

Had Mark Trumbo done what I have faith Desmond (or Profar) would have done, the game would have lasted another few minutes (when Desmond would have driven Shin-Soo Choo home with a walkoff double to right center in the bottom of the ninth).

Desmond wouldn’t have slid. 

Desmond would have fired off first base at full speed when the ball was hit on the ground.

He would have closed in on second base at full speed.

And he would have run right through the bag at full speed.

He would have been safe at second — even if bearing in on the bag at the same time that Trumbo did, ignoring foot-speed — because he wouldn’t have taken the split second to break into a slide and his final stride to the bag would have been a split-second faster than a slide would have been.

Desmond would have been safe at second and torn by the outstretched second baseman and the bag, cutting his route toward third.

The second baseman would have dutifully tossed the ball at that point to the shortstop, who would have dutifully tagged Desmond out, and Desmond wouldn’t have even made all that valiant an effort to elude the inning-ending tag.  

Inning-ending, but game-extending.

Desmond would have beaten the toss to second because he didn’t slide, and in doing so would have removed the force play, allowing the tying run to score a second before he willfully ran into a tag for out number three.

Desmond would have done all that because he’s great and because he’s got court sense and because this is my story.

Trumbo didn’t.  

And the game, accordingly, ended right there.  

A game in which Derek Holland needed 27 pitches to get through the third inning, a frame in which the Orioles scored three times after scoring no runs before that inning — or after it.

Even though they out hit Texas, 15 to 9, and left runners on base in every inning.

A game in which the heroes included Shawn Tolleson and Tony Barnette and Bobby Wilson, because these are the 2016 Rangers and why not.

The pace is 105 wins.  The division lead is 9.5 games, all gained in the last 18 days.  

Jonah Keri (Sports Illustrated) writes that the Rangers “are playing out of their minds right now.”  

Maybe so.

But their latest win, the way I see it, might have needed a different ending if Mark Trumbo wasn’t out of his mind himself, in a different manner of speaking.

Trumbo is no Ian Desmond.

Right now, maybe nobody is.

And the way Texas is playing baseball right now . . . well, I don’t want to overstate things.

But these days, it’s almost automatic to expect that the Rangers are going to do the productive thing when needed.

At the plate.

In the field.

On the mound.

Including from the back and middle of the bullpen, on those rare nights when the starter falters.

And on the bases.

My story, at least.  Sticking to it.

Longest.

It’s the longest day of the year, and it would have been even longer if the schedule-makers’ off-day for Texas wasn’t filled by tonight’s raincheck game against Baltimore.

It’s being called a one-game series, meaning the Rangers need to take the Orioles down tonight to extend their franchise-record 10 straight home series wins (and then would have to sweep the Reds tomorrow and Wednesday to extend the record further).  

Derek Holland faces Baltimore power righthander Kevin Gausman, which isn’t quite the same as Holland facing Mike Wright, which was the pitching matchup when this game was first slated to be played on April 17, but Holland has a really strong track record against Baltimore, who will be without the suspended Manny Machado . . . . 

And yet, you can’t predict ball.

The Rangers own the second-largest division lead in baseball, at 8.5.

It trails only the cushion the Cubs have on the Cardinals, who just lost three straight one-run games at home to drop to 12.5 games out in the NL Central.

They dropped those three straight one-run games at home to Texas.

Two were late-inning comebacks.

The other was a 1-0 ballgame.

The Rangers are now on a 104-victory pace, which would blow away another franchise mark.

They’ve never had this big a division lead before the All-Star Break, and in fact they’ve only had a bigger lead at any point in the schedule in four other seasons:

1996, 1999, 2010, and 2011.

Playoff season.  Playoff season.  Playoff season.  Playoff season. 

But beware of dog days: After tonight against Baltimore and the next two against Cincinnati and three against Boston, the Rangers head out for 19 of 23 on the road, and 27 of 38, through August 9.  

The division could very well be a whole lot tighter at that point.  See 2015.

But all the uniformed guys can do is take care of the business at hand, and the Rangers have been doing that.  They’ve built an unprecedented cushion, at least as far as this club is concerned.  

And now Shin-Soo Choo is back and Yu Darvish should be soon and A.J. Griffin and Keone Kela, too.  So should Tanner Scheppers and Drew Stubbs and, in all likelihood, by time that insane road stretch comes to a close there will also be at least one name to add to this paragraph whose potential impact may lag only Darvish’s.  

Fun baseball is fun.

It’s the longest day of the year, but man, it would be just fine with me if first pitch was in about half an hour.

Profar STL

Happy Father’s Day.

My favorite baseball team battles.  Competes.  Is never out of a game.

Never.

Works its tails off, and plays with a passion for the game.

Plays hurt from time to time, but when necessary, the next man up steps in and contributes.

Really, it’s different contributors all the time.  No one player carrying the team on his back, and not just two or three.

It’s a team.

Chemistry matters.  Great teammates make a difference.

Those things go hand in hand with the battle, the collective resilience and toughness that feeds that never-out-of-the-game identity.

My favorite baseball wins a lot.  Wins far more than it loses.

Losses happen.  That’s OK.  Can always learn from those.  Adjust.  Get better.

Good baseball players can always get better.

Very good baseball players are driven to get better. 

Match players like that with great coaches — coaches who believe in their players and who teach and motivate and challenge and do what they do for the right reasons — and you’re on your way. 

My second favorite team has a chance to sweep St. Louis today.

Happy Father’s Day.

Photo: Elaine Payne

                                                                                             Photo: Elaine Payne

 

Analysis.

The Texas Rangers are good at baseball.

All Saints days.

TX STL

St. Louis.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Lewis.

Plan B.

I didn’t love that Sam Dyson had to pitch the ninth inning on Tuesday, and I didn’t love that Nick Martinez got off the bullpen bench in the third inning on Wednesday, starting to get loose as Oakland was busy sending eight hitters to the plate against Derek Holland.

Hours earlier, Jeff Banister had hinted in an MLB Network Radio interview that Martinez, recalled the day before to replace Tom Wilhelmsen on the big league staff, was the odds-on candidate to take Yu Darvish’s start (rather than Cesar Ramos) Saturday in St. Louis.

Now he was having to prepare to enter a game that already felt like it was slipping away, possibly used in a loss and potentially compromising the team’s chances in another game three days later.  

That’s not to say Nick Martinez is a core member of the pitching staff, but if the club had planned to start him Saturday, it looked like Plan B was going to have to be enacted, and when smart folks are making plans, Plan B is usually less preferable than Plan A.  

Holland got through the third, stranding two and holding the score at 3-0, but he didn’t survive the fourth, throwing 10 of his first 14 pitches in that frame for balls (walk, lineout, walk), and fanning Yonder Alonso on eight pitches before handing the ball to Banister, who handed it to Martinez.

The righthander’s first pitch, doubled by Billy Burns, put two final runs on Holland’s ledger.

It was Oakland 5, Texas 0 at that point.  Then things changed.

Martinez ended the fourth, Texas went quietly in the fifth, and Oakland reached once in the bottom of that frame but didn’t score.

The Rangers then put together their own eight-hitter inning — homer, double, double, groundout, sac fly, single, homer, lineout — and suddenly 5-0 was 5-5.

Martinez came back out and threw first-pitch strikes to the first three of four A’s who hit in their sixth (groundout-groundout-single-strikeout), 12 of 17 overall, and his 45-pitch night was done.

And then Robinson Chirinos homered for the second time in two innings, putting Texas ahead and lining things up for a Matt Bush seventh, a Jake Diekman eighth, and a Dyson ninth.  

Nine up, nine down.

Bush and Diekman and Dyson were used on a night when Texas was losing by five runs in the fourth inning, and this time it was a really awesome thing that they were needed.

They were needed because the Rangers got to Sonny Gray (nine quality starts against Texas out of 10) and got to John Axford (seven straight scoreless outings, and 12 of 13) and got to Sean Doolittle (eight straight scoreless outings, and 14 of 15).

And because Nick Martinez, a second baseman at Fordham University who mixed in 26.1 college innings on the mound, enough of which Rangers area scout Jay Heafner saw to pound his fist in Round 18 in 2011, pitched on a night when the plan had apparently been for him to not pitch, and kicked off a run of 5.1 scoreless bullpen innings (three hits, no walks, four strikeouts, 13 of the A’s final 14 hitters retired) that, without which, we’re not talking today about two Chirinos homers or two Rougned Odor homers or a really outstanding night at the plate for Shin-Soo Choo.

Maybe Martinez’s 45 pitches will actually turn out to be a between-starts side, and Texas goes ahead and gives him the ball in St. Louis on Saturday.  Maybe.  

If not, it’s Frisco righthander Connor Sadzeck’s day to pitch, and he’s on the 40-man roster.  Or maybe Ramos gets the assignment after all.  Stay tuned.

I didn’t like seeing Tuesday night’s game necessitate Dyson’s entry.  

But Texas won.

I didn’t like seeing last night’s game necessitate Martinez’s usage.  

But Texas won.

And the pace is now 100 of those, in the regular season.

The Rangers keep finding different ways to win, and different guys to rely on.

Even when Plan B is in play.

Grrr.

Texas 10, Oakland 6 catapulted the Rangers’ record to an AL-best 40-25 (a 99.69-win pace), bettered in baseball only by the Cubs.  

It was a win in Oakland Alameda Coliseum, which feels more like a mausoleum, in terms of both its embarrassing lack of life in the stands and the horror effect it somehow has on the Rangers when they visit.

Martin Perez recovered from a shaky first to go seven innings — not only matching a season-high workload but also doing so while registering his third-lowest pitch count (90) in 14 starts, which in combination is all kinds of awesome. He’s won five straight starts, and as one of the club’s three number three starters, more of that, please.

Elvis Andrus led a 13-hit attack, singling a runner to third ahead of Robinson Chirinos’s tone-setting homer in the second, singling in a runner himself an inning later, and going deep in the eighth.  

Ryan Rua, hitting cleanup for the first time, had three run-scoring trips plus a walk.  In his last 19 games, he’s a .370/.462/.685 hitter in 65 plate appearances, a stretch over which the club is 13-6.  

Andrus’s homer (he’s now hitting .294/.342/.417, which as WFAA’s Or Moyal points out, overlays nicely against Carlos Correa’s .252/.346/.416) extended the Texas lead to 8-4, an only slightly more comfortable cushion in that wretched ballpark, and Jeff Banister gave the bottom of the eighth to Matt Bush, who’d had two days off since a 13-pitch effort in Seattle on Saturday.  

Bush had a clean eighth, another 13-pitch frame, and the Rangers put up another pair of runs in the top of the ninth, pushing the score to 10-4 with three outs to go.

All of that, and I’m a little baseball-cranky this morning.

I’m not at all miffed at Alex Claudio, who is what he is, or at Banister, who didn’t have Keone Kela (hurt) or Shawn Tolleson (27 pitches the night before) or Tom Wilhelmsen (ineffective and back in AAA) or Andrew Faulkner (same) or Tanner Scheppers (hurt) or Luke Jackson (back in AAA because of team workload issues) or Phil Klein (DFA’d) or Cesar Ramos (back in the rotation with Yu Darvish sidelined) or Nick Martinez (back up but possibly being held for Saturday’s start or at least long relief duties) or A.J. Griffin (rehabbing).

The situation called not for Bush to go another inning.  It called for Claudio.

And a 10-4 lead in the ninth ended up putting another 16 pitches of wear on the closer’s arm.

Claudio: Hit batsman on an 0-1 pitch.  Single.  Strikeout.  Double.  Dyson.

Ugh.

Dyson took care of business, getting Billy Burns to ground out to second (a terrific play by both Rougned Odor and Dyson covering the bag) and Jed Lowrie to watch strike three, but while that effort shouldn’t shut Dyson down tonight, what if he’s used tonight?  Will he still be available tomorrow afternoon? 

It’s sorta dumb that Texas finally won a game in Oakland and I’m grumpy.  I know.  

And when circumstances lead to a trickshot artist like Claudio — undeniably a success story in that he’s a former 27th-round pick whose delivery the club overhauled and who got to the big leagues in four years and is building up a pension — being your best bet to take a six-run lead in the ninth to the house, well, that’s the situation you want to feel good about having a guy like him around to absorb, and handle.

I hated seeing Dyson stand up off the bullpen bench and start stretching, but I understood.  

Hated seeing him brought in with what was then a 10-6 margin, but I get it.

Hated seeing Burns work him for seven pitches and Lowrie for nine before he he got both out, but, hey, he did get them out.

Loved the win.  

But not as much as I wanted to.

Still, that’s a burr in the saddle that I can live with.  Texas has barely gotten anything yet out of Yu Darvish or Shin-Soo Choo or Kela or Scheppers or Chirinos or Delino DeShields.  Tolleson and Wilhelmsen haven’t contributed anywhere near expectations, nor have Prince Fielder or Mitch Moreland, though those two are showing good signs.  

I’m grumbling about the fact that my team’s closer pitched after a day of rest, and that’s something I’d much rather worry about than being 5.5 games out or 9.5 games out or 12.0 or 12.5, which is where the Rangers’ division mates sit this morning, 40 percent into the season, while Texas is a tick away from a 100-win pace.

So, yeah, never mind.

Put to the ground.

Minutes after Texas lit Astros reliever Ken Giles up in the bottom of the ninth inning on Monday, in the first of four between the teams this week in Arlington, the 5.76 ERA/.812 OPS-toting righty said to the press, with air of odd and severely misplaced indignation: “We’re going to go out there tomorrow and put them to the ground.”

Put them to the ground.

The syntax confused me.  

Was this like “lit” or “ratchet” or “turnt” or another one of those words or phrases I have to annoy my high school kid by asking her for an explanation?

Was it Papiamentu?

Was it Giles communicating on a level that the rest of us can’t process, you know, like a dog whistle?

The Rangers won the day after that, the “tomorrow” Giles was alluding to, 4-3.  Like Monday, Texas came from behind to do it.

Was Giles prophetic?  Did Houston dropping Game Two satisfy his prediction that his team was going “put the Rangers to the ground”?

The Astros won Game Three, using four relief pitchers that weren’t Giles.  

I still wasn’t sure if he was proven right.

Then, yesterday, it hit me.  

The Astros had taken a lead — like they did in all four games in the series — but Texas cut it to 2-1 in the third when Mitch Moreland followed an Elvis Andrus walk by doubling Andrus in.  Bryan Holaday then singled Moreland to third.  

Up stepped Jurickson Profar, who was getting a late start on his standard multi-hit game after he’d grounded out in the first frame.

Profar took ball one from Colin McHugh.  

Holaday, unsurprisingly, was not on the move.  The double play was in order, and the Astros were playing for two up the middle, prepared to concede the tying run.

Next McHugh pitch: Profar squared up and put a ball on the ground, right at Jose Altuve, who didn’t need to move a foot to the left or a foot to the right.  

But he did leave his feet.

The shot cannon-balled Altuve backwards.  The baseball met Altuve’s glove and then jumped out of it.  Altuve landed on his butt, the ball landed on the ground, Moreland crossed home plate, Holaday advanced to second, Profar safely reached first.

Ian Desmond then struck out swinging for the second time in three innings, which theoretically would have ended the inning had Altuve turned the tailor-made double play, but instead the inning lived and Nomar Mazara singled to left to give Texas a 3-2 lead that would stand up and result in another series win, the Rangers’ 10th straight at home, a franchise record.

And now I know, even if it wasn’t “tomorrow,” what the prescient, forward-thinking visionary Ken Giles meant by “We’re going to go out there and put them to the ground.” 

Altuve falls

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