Belief in Bochy: Rangers have best start in franchise history with vet manager

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Belief in Bochy Rangers
Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, second from right, celebrates with Martin Perez, left, Ezequiel Duran (20) and others after their win in a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Sunday, June 4, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers already had a season with their half-billion dollar middle infield together before luring three-time World Series champion manager Bruce Bochy back into the dugout, then bolstering their starting rotation with a series of free-agent signings.

Through 61 games under Bochy, they are leading the AL West and off to the best start in franchise history at 40-21 — two more wins than the 1996 squad had at that same point on way to winning the team’s first division title.

The Rangers are outscoring teams by big margins with a deep, impressive offense led off by second baseman Marcus Semien, and have one of the most-improved rotations in all of baseball.

They have done all that even after All-Star shortstop Corey Seager missed a month early on and two-time NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom threw the last of his 30 1/3 innings in April before a season-ending elbow injury.

“We’ve shown already how resilient we are,” said the 68-year-old Bochy, who hadn’t managed since 2019 before he was hired last October by general manager Chris Young, one of his former pitchers.

The Rangers have won six series in a row, though Semien’s majors-best 25-game hitting streak came to an end in a 1-0 home loss to St. Louis on Wednesday night.

Jon Gray (6-2, 2.32 ERA), the big pitching addition in December 2021 at the same time Seager and Semien were signed, threw 100 pitches in the first complete-game loss by a Texas starter since Cliff Lee in 2010.

“I have all the confidence in the world in our club,” Bochy said after that series finale snapped a five-game winning streak. “Pitching has been doing a great job, these hitters have been doing a terrific job. So I think we’ve already shown that we can play with anybody if we play our game.”

The only time the Rangers won more consecutive series was 10 in a row in 2016, their most recent winning season. They will be at Tampa Bay (46-19) on Friday night to open a three-game set matching the teams with the two best records in the majors.

Texas leads the majors with 386 runs scored, a plus-154 run differential and a .277 team batting average. The Rays are second in the majors with a plus-135 differential, twice as high as the next-closest team.

5A South

Semien is hitting .299 with nine home runs and leads the majors with 55 runs scored.

He was third in the AL with 50 RBIs, two behind teammate Adolis García, and four more than switch-hitting Texas catcher Jonah Heim.

“He told me at some point in the winter that he’s going to get in the MVP race, and he expects himself to play MVP-caliber baseball, and he’s doing that for us,” said first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, in the locker right next to Semien in the home clubhouse.

The top four AL players for runs scored going into Thursday’s games were all Rangers: Semien, García (48), Lowe (44) and Josh Jung (43), the rookie third baseman hitting .293 after making his big league debut the final month last season.

Even though Seager missed 31 games with a left hamstring strain, he is hitting .336 with six homers and 29 RBIs over 30 games in the second year of a $325 million, 10-year deal. Ezequiel Duran, who filled in for him at shortstop and has otherwise been a utility player, is hitting .322 with 24 RBIs.

“Experience is everything. A full year, most of us were healthy, we learned a lot last year,” said Semien, in the second year of his $175 million, seven-year contract. “I think to come into this year understanding how the league attacks us, how we attack certain guys, and just continuity between all the hitting coaches and us is important.”

The Rangers won all six games started by deGrom (2-0, 2.67), but the last was April 28 and they said this week he will have surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Dane Dunning is 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA since taking over in that rotation spot, and also won two games deGrom exited early because of injury concerns.

But deGrom wasn’t the only starter added last winter on multiyear deals. Texas native Nathan Eovaldi (8-2, 2.24) and Andrew Heaney (4-3, 4.03) signed, and the Rangers acquired Jake Odorizzi in a trade, though he never pitched before season-ending shoulder surgery. Gray and All-Star lefty Martin Perez (6-1, 3.97) both returned from last season.

“I feel very confident with the guys we have,” Young said. “We’re at the top of the league in terms of our rotation, and most of that is without Jacob.”

Bochy, the former San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres manager, now has 2,043 career victories. He passed Walter Alston for 10th on the career list last weekend, and is second among active managers behind only Dusty Baker.

“He wants to win as much as anybody, has super high standards, but a unique way of connecting with each individual,” Young said. “I have no doubt that our success is attributed to his leadership.”

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