As Rangers try to reverse AL West’s struggles, upcoming division games could provide important lessons
ANAHEIM, Calif .– And now, kids, welcome to the longest and most difficult chapter of the Ranger Multi-Year Identity Building 101 course. It’s called: “Winning in the Division.”
On Monday, the Rangers became the last MLB team in 2021 to start divisional play when they began a six-game road trip with the first of three games against the Los Angeles Angels. It’s not like the Rangers are complaining about the relatively late start. Because you checked out their recent record inside AL West?
In Chris Woodward’s first two years as manager, the Rangers were 49-67 against West. This is baseball’s seventh worst intra-divisional record. A rule of thumb of champions: you don’t win the division without winning in the division.
“When I first got the job here, I said it back then and I’ve said it a number of times,” said Woodward. “But to look the opponent in the face when he knows what to expect and beat him, I think it’s important to become a champion. Looking at these [teams] in the face and beating them is a good test for us, especially for our young guys to set the tone. It’s essential. “
As of Monday, more than half of the 146 remaining games of the season were against opponents from the West. The Rangers face the Angels six times in 10 days to end April. It is the lightest intra-divisional month on the calendar. Consider the end of the season: The Rangers play 34 of the last 64 games inside the West.
It might not turn out a Division title this year, but the clusters of games against the Division can provide some important lessons. Baseball is a game of adjustments. Nothing forces adjustments more than familiarity. Intradivisional play is all about familiarity and adaptability.
“We have to stay ahead of the trends,” said Woodward. “We’re dumb if we win a series and think we can keep playing the same way over and over and tackling things the same way.”
In particular, this applies to the Rangers’ young hitting lineup. They had a lot of trouble attacking pitchers in the young season. For example, five of the hitters in the Rangers Monday lineup have had at least eight previous encounters with Angels starter Dylan Bundy. It’s the roster’s greatest experience as a whole against a starter so far this season. The Rangers’ combined batting order on Monday had a 0.433 batting average against Bundy.
The Rangers faced Bundy twice last year and twice in 2019. They have dates coming up with relatively familiar arms such as Jose Quintana, who will face them twice over the next 10 days, Chicago’s Dallas Keuchel and , in May, a crowd of starters from the AL West.
“Typically, pitchers win over hitters,” said Woodward. “But hitters have to adapt. They have to see what’s going on. And if they are successful, they can’t just think they’re going to keep getting fastballs down the middle. You have to be smart. But these are conversations that we have had in recent years and will continue to have. And it’s a challenge that I look forward to. “
“They have an idea of what we’re going to try to do,” said second baseman Nick Solak, who entered the series with a career OPS of .911 against the Angels. “You can get familiar with one side or the other. The reconnaissance reports came out. People have experience with each other. “
Solak is the only Ranger who has shown his ability to make adjustments in recent times. After a slow start to the season, he’s gone 10 for 23 (.435) in his previous six games before Monday.
“For us, every team, every opportunity, we’re going to win,” Solak said. “It doesn’t matter who we play that day. These are the teams we see most often. We have to win games against the West, but we try to win the day every day.
As of 2019, the Rangers have one of baseball’s worst intra-division records, accounting for 49% of their total games played. A look at the worst:
|Baltimore||To the East||42-83||0.336|
* The Rangers record is for 2019-20; they had not played an intra-division match in 2021 until Monday.
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