Few expected the Texas Rangers to be leading their division and tied for the AL’s best record at this point of the season.
As impressive as those accomplishments are, there is still plenty left to prove for one of baseball’s most surprising teams.
The Rangers seek a second straight win over one of the league’s top clubs Saturday night when they continue a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox.
Four straight losing seasons and residing in the same division as the Los Angeles Angels figured to leave Texas (32-22) with little chance to reach the playoffs in 2009. The Rangers, however, have exceeded expectations by leading the West for the past 31 days - their longest consecutive stretch in first place since the final 139 days in 1999, the last year they reached the playoffs.
But returning to the postseason might be difficult if Texas can’t find a way to beat the league’s best teams. The Rangers are a combined 4-12 against the Yankees, Detroit, Toronto and Boston, compared to 12-6 versus last-place teams Cleveland, Baltimore and Oakland.
The next two weeks could determine whether Texas is a legitimate contender. Tuesday at Yankee Stadium started a stretch where the Rangers play 13 games in as many days against teams with winning records.
“Well it’s nice to get a win, yes it is,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We certainly weren’t thinking about what happened last year. We’re just out there trying to win a ballgame.”
The Red Sox (32-23) had averaged 9.3 runs during their eight straight victories over Texas as the Rangers staff compiled a 9.14 ERA.
“It’s a different year,” Kinsler said. “It’s just another win. We’re just trying to keep winning.”
The Red Sox had a four-game winning streak snapped and dropped to 17-7 at home, second in the majors behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Jon Lester(notes) (4-5, 5.65 ERA) takes the mound for Boston looking to build off one of his best outings of the season. The left-hander was in complete control in an 8-2 win at Toronto on Sunday, allowing one run and three hits while striking out a career-high 12 in six innings.
It was the most strikeouts by a Boston left-hander since Bruce Hurst fanned 14 against Oakland on May 5, 1987.
Lester is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts - all at Fenway - against the Rangers.
Forced into the rotation because of an injury to Matt Harrison(notes), the rookie left-hander struggled in losing his two starts, allowing nine runs and 15 hits in 10 2-3 innings. His last start came against the Yankees on May 27, when he was tagged for six runs and 10 hits through five innings in a 9-2 loss.
Since that game, Holland has given up four runs and seven hits in 3 1-3 innings of relief. He’s never faced Boston.