By Mark Miller
After starting June on their biggest slide of the season, the Texas Rangers rebounded in typical fashion to end the month in style.
The team won four of six games last week to finish June with a 14-14 record. Considering a 5-12 start including a six-game losing streak, to be back on track and atop the American League West Division is encouraging.
“We have to continue to play hard, win series and stay focused,” said shortstop Elvis Andrus. “We went through a tough stretch for awhile but we played hard, got focused and now are back to normal.”
Part of being back to normal was ace starter Yu Darvish’s first win since May 16. The 3-2 decision Sunday gave the Rangers a series win against the Cincinnati Reds after doing the same at the New York Yankees earlier in the week.
“We played good baseball this week,” said manager Ron Washington. “That’s what we wanted to do. But there’s a lot of time before the (All-Star) break so we have to continue to grind.”
Texas must continue grinding because the Oakland A’s remain on their tails. Despite 10 wins in its past 13 games, the Rangers only lead their division foes by half a game. They don’t meet each other again until August.
In the meantime, if the Rangers continue playing like they have the last two weeks, they’ll be just fine. And if some of their younger players remain hot, they’ll be even better.
Rookie outfielders Engle Beltre (.400) and Leonys Martin (.389) led the team in hitting last week with Martin extending his hitting streak to 14 games. Rookie starting pitcher Martin Perez had another strong outing giving up six hits and no runs in the opener against Cincinnati.
Also pitching well was Derek Holland with a two-hit shutout of the Yankees and veteran relievers Neil Cotts, Jason Frasor, Ross Wolf and Joe Nathan with no runs and just five hits allowed in 10 appearances between them.
Division foes at home upcoming
The Rangers conclude their nine-game, 10-day homestand this week against AL West foes Seattle and Houston after a rare day off at home Monday.
First up are three games against the Mariners against whom Texas has a 5-2 record in 2013 including a three-game sweep at The Ballpark in Arlington in April. Seattle enters the series with a 35-47 record after dropping the last two at home to the Chicago White Sox. The Mariners have won just 14 of 39 road games.
Veteran outfielder Raul Ibanez is among the league leaders in home runs with 19 to go along with a team-leading 45 runs batted in. Of players who have been healthy the whole year, designated hitter Kendrys Morales leads in hitting at .277. Pitching has been Seattle’s strong point, especially starters Hisashi Iwakuma (7-3, 2.42 earned run average) and Felix Hernandez (8-4, 2.70).
Houston’s trip up Interstate 45 will be the first this year and the first as a division opponent. The Rangers won five of six meetings in Houston in April and May.
The Astros started the week at 30-52 following a three-game sweep by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Houston had a 14-23 road record before this week.
Leading the Astros on offense has been second baseman Jose Altuve with a .292 average. Left fielder Chris Carter is best in home runs with 15 while third baseman Matt Dominguez leads in RBI with 44.
Bud Norris (5-7, 3.35) and Jordan Lyles (4-3, 3.99) lead the young starting pitching staff. Closer Jose Veras has 16 saves in 19 tries.
7/2 Mariners 7:05 p.m.
7/3 Mariners 7:05 p.m.
7/4 Mariners 7:05 p.m.
7/5 Astros 7:05 p.m.
7/6 Astros 6:15 p.m.
7/7 Astros 2:05 p.m.