Yu and Napoli lead the Rangers back to .500
The Rangers have only been at .500 one time this year, and that was before a single pitch was thrown in the 2017 season. After an Opening Day loss, the Rangers have scratched and clawed their way back towards .500 for the past 39 games. It hasn’t always been pretty, and it most certainly hasn’t been easy, but tonight they finally found their way back.
With Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, the Rangers record now stands at 20-20. Just eight days ago, the Rangers were floundering at 13-20; now, seven straight wins later, hope for a competitive 2017 has returned in full force.
It should come as no surprise that staff ace Yu Darvish was the one who led them to the precipice of hope, especially considering his career performance in inter-league contests. Coming into Tuesday night’s game, Darvish had a career record of 7-2 in matchups versus NL foes, with an ERA of 2.26 and a WHIP of 1.038. Darvish continued that dominance with seven stellar innings—and “stellar” was what it took, as the Rangers didn’t fare especially well against Phillies starter and former Rangers prospect Jerad Eickhoff.
For what it’s worth, when asked about what makes him so good in inter-league contests, Yu (through a translator) said simply, “I have no clue.”
So, I’d just chalk it up to random luck, awesomeness, or whatever you want to call it.
While Darvish was dealing, Eickhoff showed up on Tuesday evening and turned in one of his best performances of a rough 2017. His overall line for the night was six innings pitched, three runs (only two of which were earned) with eight strikeouts against just a pair of walks. Prior to Tuesday evening, Eickhoff had failed to go at least six innings in his last four starts, and had not allowed fewer than four earned runs since April 22nd.
Despite his success, the Rangers were able to do just enough, with a couple of well-timed home runs and some good situational hitting that led to their three runs against Eickhoff (and five runs overall).
Pitching: Darvish, Alex Claudio, and Matt Bush come out dealing, start to finish
This night was all about Yu Darvish. From the beginning of the game, it was clear that Yu had command of all his pitches and was able to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and just about to whomever he chose in the Philly lineup.
In addition to his exceptional control of his arsenal, Darvish was also extremely efficient early. Through the first five frames, Darvish had thrown just 51 pitches, and all signs were pointing towards a complete game.
Yu would go on to grind his way through the 6th and 7th innings, as the he lost his pinpoint control and gave up a few weak hits. Still, when that’s your definition of “struggling”, then you’re the definition of “dealing”. That was Yu on Tuesday.
The Phillies were finally able to put a run on the board in the 7th on a two-out, RBI single by Freddy Galvis. Darvish managed to fan the next hitter but, having thrown 44 pitches between the 6th and 7th innings, his night was done. Overall, the line for Darvish was seven very strong innings pitched, four hits, one run, nine strikeouts, and just two walks.
Some fun facts about Darvish’s start:
- This was Darvish’s 50th win as a Ranger; it took him just 109 starts to reach that mark. According to Jared Sandler of 105.3 The Fan, Yu reached 50 career wins faster than any other Ranger, surpassing Kevin Brown, who accomplished the feat in 115 starts.
After the game, Darvish was asked about the significance of that mark and he responded by saying, “I haven’t pitched for almost two years, which means I have missed about 60 games, so I feel like I reached that mark a little late.”
- Of Yu Darvish’s 95 pitches, 70 of them went for strikes. That’s an incredible 74% strikes thrown by Darvish tonight.
- According to Brooks Baseball, Darvish’s fastest pitch on the night was a 98-mph fastball, and his slowest was a 73 mph curveball. This is part of what makes Darvish so successful. He can change speeds by up to 25 mph in a single at-bat.
- According to Brooks Baseball, Darvish best pitch of the night was his slider. On the evening, Darvish threw 39 sliders, 28 of which went for strikes and 8 of those strikes were on swings and misses. On the night, Darvish had 17 swings and misses, which means that Phillies hitters swung and missed on 19% of the pitches Darvish threw on Tuesday night.
The list could go on and on for Darvish, who continues to take hold of his responsibility as the ace of this pitching staff. Darvish now sports a 4-2 record for the Rangers with an excellent 2.76 ERA.
Although he has struggled lately, Alex Claudio was tapped by Jeff Banister to pitch the 8th inning for the Rangers in what was a hold situation in a 3-1 game. Claudio responded to his manager’s confidence and pitched a 1, 2, 3 inning on just 10 pitches.
Matt Bush pitched a perfect 9th inning to complete the dominant pitching performance for the Rangers. Although it was not a save situation, Banister already had Bush warming up prior to Mike Napoli’s 2-run home run that extended the lead to 5-1. In four-run games in the past, Banister has shown a willingness to go to his closer to lock in a win. This was no different on Tuesday night, and Matt Bush did his job once again.
Offense: Mazara, Lucroy continue to trend upwards, and Napoli has a big night
Nomar Mazara hammered out his third straight game with multiple hits, finishing the night 2-for-4 with one home run and an RBI. The home run was especially big, as it came with two outs in the first inning and gave the Rangers an early lead. For just the second time in this 7-game winning streak, the Rangers led the game from start to finish, and Mazara’s home run was the reason. Nomar continues to show that he is coming around at the plate; he now sports a .257/.318/.436 slash line for the year.
Jonathan Lucroy has been on his own tear lately, and turned in his fourth multi-hit game in his last five starts. As the DH tonight, Lucroy went 2-for-4, including a huge two-out double in the bottom of the fifth to drive in Delino Deshields and give the Rangers a 3-0 lead. Lucroy’s hit was another instance in which the Rangers tacked on a run after gaining an early lead.
More on Lucroy, from Jared Sandler:
April: .206/.242/.286 (.528 OPS)
May: .375/.432/.525 (.957 OPS)
— Jared Sandler (@SandlerJ) May 17, 2017
For a guy who was hitting below the Mendoza line for a good part of the year, it’s not quite time to say he’s all the way back. Lucroy, though, is now hitting .272 on the year; so, if he’s not all the way back, he’s pretty darn close.
Mike Napoli had himself a game Tuesday night. Napoli went 3-for-3 with a walk, 2 RBIs and a run scored and was a key cog in the middle of the lineup for the Rangers. The big hit for Napoli came in the bottom of the 8th inning, when he hit a 2-run home run to center off a 0-2 pitch from Phillies reliever Mark Leiter Jr.
Here’s Jared Sandler, again, with a great look at Napoli’s turnaround:
April: .146/.224/.281 (.505 OPS)
May: .245/.281/.566 (.847 OPS)
— Jared Sandler (@SandlerJ) May 17, 2017
While Napoli has yet to show any real consistency from game to game, he has continued to trend upwards in the month of May; Tuesday night’s blast put him at 8 home runs and 20 RBIs on the year.
- This isn’t necessarily a fun fact, so let’s call it a hard truth: Despite their seven-game winning streak, the Rangers have gained just half a game on the Astros.
Now, you could look at that as a bad thing. Or, you could think of it this way: If the Rangers hadn’t gone on this streak, they may well have been completely out of the AL West race by now. Despite the large deficit in the AL West, the Rangers are now just a game back of the second wild card in the American League—so at least there’s that.
When asked about the line-up and their ability to execute without Choo and Gomez, Jeff Banister said, “Mazara showed up big, and Delino at the top of the line up with the one walk, and Lucroy with the two-out hit with Delino running and then Napoli showing up in the middle of the line-up driving in some runs for us—especially a couple add-on runs late—were crucial for us.”
Banister when asked if he places any significance on being back at .500 on the season said, “The significance is it’s a spot in the season, in the record, that you have to get to—to go where we want to go and, more than anything else, it’s the significance of continuing to win baseball games.”
The Rangers are back at it again on Wednesday night against these same Phillies from the City of Brotherly Love. For only the second time in 2017, the Rangers will have the chance to raise their record above .500; they will look to Andrew Cashner to make that happen.
Game time on Wednesday is 7:05 pm.