With a sudden burst of great pitching—and an assist from the schedule—the Rangers had won 11 straight games through Sunday and taken control of the AL West. The streak, which included four-game sweeps of the A's and the Mariners, buried both of those teams and rendered the division a two-horse race between Texas and the Angels, who were four games back.
The Rangers took advantage of three terrible offensive teams (the streak began with a sweep of the Orioles), outscoring their opponents 70--24, allowing only 2.2 runs per game and putting up an 86-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Derek Holland, the frustrating lefty who couldn't get out of the first inning against the Marlins on July 2, tossed back-to-back shutouts (against Oakland and Seattle), striking out 15 and walking just three.
Manager Ron Washington's decision to allow Holland to finish both games—he threw 119 and 118 pitches, respectively—reflects a team philosophy that demands more from starters without being abusive. The Rangers were fourth in the AL in innings pitched by starters, no mean feat given the bandbox in which they play home games. The approach is working: Texas is getting average or better work from all five rotation spots; it has used just six starters all season; and the rotation is second in the AL in strikeouts, fourth in ERA and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Texas Rangers, believe it or not, are built around starting pitching.
They can hit a little too, but they have a large home-road split: .288/.343/.517 in Arlington and .254/.316/.374 away. The Rangers were scoring nearly two more runs per game at home than elsewhere; their swing-hard-and-often lineup benefits from the jet streams at Rangers Ballpark. Leadoff man Ian Kinsler, one of the few Rangers who takes free passes, is a critical piece. During the streak he hit .326/.404/.652 with three home runs and was on base in every game.
If this all sounds familiar, it should. The 11-game winning streak equaled Texas's longest from 2010 and was an eerie match in terms of timing. On June 11 last year the Rangers were in a dogfight with the Angels and the A's in the AL West. They then won 11 straight to build a cushion in the division and blasted out of the All-Star break with a 9--3 stretch that effectively ended the race; Texas's lead never dipped below seven games in the season's last two months. Having taken out the Mariners and the A's, the Rangers will be looking to do what they did a year ago: bury the last of the competition and spend the season's final two months preparing for the playoffs.
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At the other end of the spectrum, the Mariners had lost nine straight through Sunday. They scored 11 runs during the streak and were nearly outscored by the Seattle Sounders of MLS in that span. After having one of the worst offenses in the DH era in 2010, Seattle may produce fewer runs this year—and it's getting worse as the season goes along. Since calling up top prospect Dustin Ackley on June 17, the Mariners have scored 2.2 runs per game despite his team-leading .274/.333/.476 performance. With 303 runs in 95 games the Mariners are in danger of becoming the first team since 1971 to score fewer than 500 runs in a full season. At some point Seattle has to realize its pitcher-friendly park and the overall lowered run environment aren't the problem: It's the team.
RED MENACE Kinsler makes the Texas lineup go; the young Holland (inset) is settling in on a team that won't baby pitchers.
OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGES (ACKLEY)