The Texas Rangers are quietly playing the best baseball in the American League. They're 45-25, good for the junior circuit's best record by four games. The team is now on a six-game winning streak after a thrilling sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ace pitcher Cole Hamels led the way in Friday's series opener, tossing 7.2 shutout innings. Michael Wacha wasn't much worse, but a Rougned Odor solo homer in the fifth was all the Rangers needed in a 1-0 win.
The Cardinals looked to have Game Two locked up on Saturday, taking a 3-0 lead into the eighth on the heels of a brilliant outing from Carlos Martinez. But Seung-hwan Oh allowed two runs in the top of the eighth, and closer Trevor Rosenthal allowed two singles and hurled a wild pitch in the ninth before getting pulled with no outs. Lefty Kevin Siegrist wasn't much better, surrendering a bases-loaded walk to Shin-soo Choo and a go-ahead sacrifice fly to Ian Desmond.
Sunday's finale saw another Ranger comeback. Texas trailed 4-3 with two outs in the eighth, but Jurickson Profar's pinch-hit, two-run single off Jonathan Broxton put his team on top. St. Louis had runners on second and third with two outs in the ninth against Sam Dyson, but the righty pulled through and forced an Aledmys Diaz groundout to second.
The series sweep brings Texas to 20 games over .500 and stretches its AL West lead to 8.5 games. Even though the Rangers won the division last year and now have a full season of Hamels, it's still surprising how well they've fared, especially with Prince Fielder battling injuries/inadequacy and Yu Darvish only starting three games. Instead, the team has been carried by Hamels, a strong bullpen now anchored by Dyson, and a young core of position players that features Odor, 22; Profar, 23; and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Nomar Mazara, 21.
The Rangers don't visit Busch Stadium often; this was only their second trip there since the agonizing defeat that was the 2011 World Series. Texas actually swept a three-game set with the Cardinals in 2013, as well, so their last loss to St. Louis remains Game Seven of that series (6-0 since).
Wacha's loss on Friday dropped his record to 2-7 after he started the season 2-0. He's the first Cardinals starter to lose seven straight decisions since Kip Wells did so in 2007.
St. Louis recalled Kolten Wong and plugged him into center field Saturday. Wong had moved to center field in the minors after last playing the position as a college freshman. He went 1-for-4 with an RBI in his first game back, but sat the next game because lefty Martin Perez was pitching for Texas. Tommy Pham started in his place, and it's possible that the two will platoon in center for the foreseeable future (Randal Grichuk has been demoted to AAA).
The Cardinals are now 15-21 at home, the third-worst mark in the National League (Atlanta and Arizona). It'll be pretty much impossible to run down the Cubs if this trend continues. On the flip side, Texas is 21-15 on the road, tied with Seattle for the best record in the AL, and Hamels is 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA away from Arlington.