ARLINGTON (AP) — No team won more games than the Texas Rangers over the past month. Before the All-Star break, they won six of their last seven series.
That winning surge has provided a sense of optimism and hope going forward under rookie manager Ron Washington after the Rangers got off to such a horrible start.
It also has created an interesting problem for a team that was 19 games under .500 in mid-June and seemingly ready to listen to trade offers for key players like Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne, Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa. “We’re behind the eight ball still, but the things that we accomplished to this point, we feel good about,” Washington said. “We feel like when the second half starts, we’ll just continue to play good baseball and see where we stand.”
Without a second-half comeback like the 1978 New York Yankees though, the Rangers (38-50) will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season. They still have a lot of ground to make up just to finish with a winning record for only the second time since 1999.
Considering those postseason odds, general manager Jon Daniels has to balance the strides that have been made this season with building for the future — and the pieces that can be added for that by dealing. Daniels was already getting calls from likely contending teams last month.
Even after their 15-8 stretch, the Rangers are still buried in last place 15 games behind the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels. Their winning streak included going 6-0-1 their last series, their first unbeaten seven-series stretch since 2001. They beat division leaders Detroit and Los Angeles and split a four-game series at Boston, which has the best record in the majors.
Only Detroit and the Chicago Cubs matched the Rangers’ 15 victories the past month.
“We’re playing better now, but to start off the way we did, it stunk,” said starter Kevin Millwood, who has won four of five starts since two stints on the disabled list before June. “Hopefully, we can continue playing the way we have been lately and see what happens.”
Texas, which lost 50 games before the All-Star break for only the seventh time in team history, opens a three-game series Friday at the Angels. Texas would still be 14 games back in the standings if it wins another series by taking two or three games.
“We know we dug ourselves a really huge hole, but that’s over with now,” said All-Star shortstop Michael Young, who didn’t want to make any second-half predictions. “I’m not going to think of records or anything like that. Just continue to play good baseball. Obviously, we want to win as much as we can, but it’s tough to sit here and think of a record goal.”
The ’78 Yankees overcame a 14-game deficit after July 18 to force the playoff game against the Red Sox that included Bucky Dent’s famous homer. (Texas is 14 games back in the AL wild-card race).
Unless the Rangers want to try for a miracle this season, they are still in position to be sellers before the trade deadline.
Sosa and Gagne have made impressive comebacks and Lofton, the 40-year-old center fielder, has also had a significant impact. All are signed only through this season and could be attractive to other teams.
Texas is also likely to listen to inquiries about Teixeira, the switch-hitting first baseman who is eligible for salary arbitration this year and can become a free agent after next season — with no guarantees he will or wants to stay.
The Rangers have also been winning with third baseman Hank Blalock, second baseman Ian Kinsler and starter Vicente Padilla on the DL.
The biggest question could be whether to deal Gagne and/or setup man Akinori Otsuka. Or they could try to keep both relievers for 2008 behind a seemingly improving rotation that is secured past this season. Texas starters are 11-6 with a 4.33 ERA the last 23 games.
Gagne was limited to 15 1-3 innings the past two seasons after elbow and back operations, but the 31-year-old right-hander is 2-0 with 12 saves in 13 chances and a 1.32 ERA in 28 appearances. Otsuka is 2-1 with four saves and a 2.51 ERA in 34 appearances.
After a year out of baseball, the 38-year-old Sosa is eighth in the AL with 63 RBIs in 75 games, even though he is in a 3-for-23 slump with no RBIs in July.
Lofton, who has been to the playoffs 10 times with six teams in his 15 major league seasons, is hitting .301 with 37 walks and 20 stolen bases in 83 games.