The Seattle Mariners rolled into Texas last weekend needing to prove something. In a season in which they hoped to use a 2022 playoff appearance to wrest the American League West title away from the Houston Astros, the Mariners instead were 29-27 and 6.5 games behind the first-place team they would face the first weekend of June -- not the Astros, but the ... Texas Rangers?
It did not go as planned. The Mariners got swept and left Arlington shell-shocked and discombobulated (and in fourth place in the AL West). The Rangers, meanwhile, continue to crush teams with a relentless offensive attack and a starting rotation that has excelled even without Jacob deGrom, who announced on Tuesday that he will undergo elbow surgery and miss the rest of the season.
"We expect to win every single game we go out and play," said rookie third baseman Josh Jung after Sunday's win. It didn't even sound like a braggadocious statement -- not after watching Jon Gray outduel Luis Castillo in a 2-0 victory on Friday; a 16-6 win as Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Nathaniel Lowe combined to go 10-for-17 with nine RBIs on Saturday; and the coup de gras on Sunday, when the Rangers won 12-3 as Nathan Eovaldi allowed one hit in six scoreless innings, Semien extended his hitting streak to 23 games and Jonah Heim homered and drove in five runs.
While the Tampa Bay Rays got off to a blazing 13-0 start and stole the early headlines as baseball's best team, the Rangers now have a reasonable stake to that claim (the Rays, at 45-19, still have a slight advantage over the Rangers at 40-21). The two teams can settle that argument this weekend when they meet for a three-game series at Tropicana Field, including the must-see game of the season so far in Saturday's marquee matchup of Cy Young contenders Eovaldi and Shane McClanahan.
The Rays, though they've surprised everyone with their level of success, have been a perennial playoff team and an expected contender. What's interesting about the Rangers -- much to the frustration of a club like the Mariners (and its fans) -- is they have seemingly skipped a step in their rebuild, going straight from "not good" to top competitor. So how, exactly, did Texas go from a sixth straight losing record to a World Series contender -- in one offseason?