OAKLAND — When asked if he would downplay the opportunity to sweep the A’s this weekend and get to .500 for the first time this season, Rangers manager Chris Woodward chuckled.
“[Heck] no,” he said. “I’m very aware of that, and I think the whole clubhouse is very aware that we can’t let up.”
Even so, Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the A’s was a sloppy affair that featured five Rangers errors and a walk-off single from Oakland’s Jed Lowrie as Texas fell, 6-5, and failed to complete its second sweep of the season.
“It was pretty sloppy,” Woodward said postgame. “I don’t want to get into all the details. It was just a lot of little things — like the baserunning, some of the lack of execution, just not really good intent [in] the batter’s box. I just expected more today. But we’ve got to flush that. We’ve been playing good baseball until today. We’ve got to get back on that plane and play well tomorrow.”
Despite how the series finale went, the Rangers put together a solid 10-game road trip, which included a win over the AL West leaders in the Astros and a two-game split against the Angels. Texas took three of four from Oakland for a 5-5 record on the trip.
Here are three takeaways from the 10-game road trip and where the Rangers go from here:
Defense needs improvement
Fielding errors were the No. 1 reason the Rangers couldn’t close out the series sweep over the A’s. Their five errors were by far a season high after having just four in their past nine games. Entering Sunday, Texas had the ninth-most errors in MLB with 29.
What was even more shocking was that Gold Glove second baseman Marcus Semien committed two of the errors, one of which directly led to the A’s scoring the game-tying run on a Chad Pinder single in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Woodward emphasized that the pitching can’t be perfect every day, and that the staff has been throwing too well to not have a defense to back up its efforts.
“The lack of execution on the defensive side was pretty frustrating,” Woodward said. “That was so shocking, honestly. We put a lot of pride in that. I know these guys work really hard. We had some troubles early in the season. Today kind of popped up, and like I said, shocking is the best way I can describe it, because I know how hard these guys work. I felt like we were ready to play. Maybe it’s just one of those games.”
The bats are alive and well
The Rangers dropped three of four to the Astros to start the road trip, scoring just four runs in that series. But in the six games that followed — two in Anaheim and four in Oakland — Texas never scored fewer than three runs, including an 11-run effort in Saturday’s win over the A’s.
Sure, the A’s are well into their rebuilding of the organization, but they’re not completely devoid of pitching talent, and the Rangers were able to easily jump on their starters during the four-game series.
Not only that, but Texas is manufacturing runs by more than just the long ball, though it did hit 12 in the 10-game road trip.
“We’re even [getting] a lot of cheap opposite-field hits,” Woodward said. “That’s something we preach heavily. If you’re going to get beat, you get beat that way, not with ground balls to the pull side. We’re getting better at that. It’s just good at-bat after good at-bat. We’re having a lot more continuous innings where it’s like that — one after another after another.”
Pitching has become an asset for the Rangers
Speaking of pitching, the Rangers’ pitching staff has become almost shockingly reliable over the month of May, highlighted by Martín Pérez’s complete resurgence at the top of the rotation.
Recency bias may show that the Rangers’ bullpen blew a 4-0 lead on Sunday to the A’s, but the aforementioned defensive miscues contributed to that more than anything.
Pérez can’t and won’t throw a shutout every time out — as he did against the Astros in the lone win of that series — but starters have been going deep into games and keeping the pressure off the bullpen throughout this recent stretch.
Even on Sunday, when starter Dane Dunning got himself into two bases-loaded jams early, he relentlessly worked out of them to keep the Rangers in the game.
“In reality, it’s [been like that] for the majority of the season,” Dunning said. “I think the first 10 games or so, we kind of were in a little rough patch pitching-wise, but after that, we’ve kind of pulled it together and locked it down. We have a very talented pitching staff, going from the knowledge with veterans that we have to the talent of the young guys, and it’s a good group. I think everybody’s pulling from the same rope, and hopefully, we can get on another roll here.”