TORONTO — When the Rangers kicked off their series finale against the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, things looked frighteningly similar to the previous two games: lots of loud homers from Toronto opposite struggling Texas pitching.
Nick Solak’s solo homer was the lone Rangers run for three innings. Then the dam broke wide open. Texas racked up six hits and six runs in the top of the fourth inning to take the lead — a lead it didn’t relinquish — and salvaged one win in the season-opening set in Toronto, leaving Canada with a 12-6 victory at Rogers Centre.
The six runs scored in the fourth inning were the most the club has produced in a road inning since Sept. 7, 2019, at Baltimore. Texas stayed on the offensive after that, tacking on two runs in the fifth and three in the seventh, including back-to-back homers from Brad Miller and Jonah Heim, to build up the Rangers’ lead.
Opening weekend gave us a glimpse of what 2022 will look like for the Rangers. Here are three takeaways after the three-game set in Toronto:
The offense means business
Offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker and hitting coach Tim Hyers were the talk all spring and for good reason. Even before Sunday’s offensive outburst in the lone win of the series, the Rangers were slugging all weekend.
The two took over a team that ranked in the bottom three in every major offensive category in 2021 and completely revamped the process.
Even though the new additions of Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Mitch Garver were already set to elevate the lineup, Ecker and Hyers no doubt brought a new offensive mindset to the club. Adolis García is being more patient, Nathaniel Lowe is being more aggressive and Eli White has redone his entire swing.
There’s still progress to be made, but this is not the 2021 Texas Rangers, and it’s shown early on.
“It’s just getting consistent buy-in and building the mental muscle of our hitters,” manager Chris Woodward said. “We have a game plan for each guy. We have some ideas and they’re gonna get better. We’ve only had these guys for a month or so. We didn’t have all offseason to really work with these guys. I truly believe as we go through this year, our offense, it’s just gonna get better and better and better.”
The Rangers outscored the Blue Jays 23-20 in the series, but the bulk of those runs came in the third game. On the other hand, Texas was out-homered, 6-7, but it speaks volumes that the Rangers were even able to keep up with the powerful lineup that Toronto boasts.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Texas at Rogers Centre, though. While the bats were hot early in all three games, the Rangers recorded no runs from the eighth inning on. Both Seager and Woodward noted that the late-game at-bats need to be better.
“I think guys are just trying to do too much,” Woodward said. “They’re trying to get the big hit. They just need to do what we did in the beginning of the game, which was shrinking the zone, sticking to our lane, sticking to our game plan, and say, ‘We’re gonna force this guy to pitch to us.’ Late in the [first two games], we’re down one, guys are trying to be the guy to tie the game up instead of taking what they give. Good things will happen.”
Gray exited his Opening Day start after just four innings due to a blister that landed him on the injured list, but he faced the minimum through three innings before allowing three runs in his fourth, and the blister affected his command. Dunning allowed just three runs on five hits in his start the following day.
Spencer Howard struggled with his command in his first outing, allowing two homers in just the first inning and four total in the series finale. But he showed potential, striking out five and keeping his pitch count low to get through three full innings.
The offense has shown it can knock in runs, but will the pitching staff keep it close enough to matter? This leads to the next point:
Bullpen is a work in progress
The bullpen was the sole reason the Rangers couldn’t hold on to a 7-0 lead on Opening Day against the Blue Jays, and while the second and third games were better, the execution will need to be better down the stretch.
“I’m not overly concerned at the moment, but we gotta get better at those things,” Woodward said. “We have to address them right away and just say, ‘Hey, we’re building up to this thing as we go.’”
The bullpen was much better in the series finale, with Brock Burke shutting the door on a potential comeback in the fifth. Santana and Sborz both bounced back with a scoreless inning each.