Three up, three down: Rangers raking, Bucs surging
The Rangers didn't merely lay claim to the best record in baseball by winning nine of their last 11 games. They spent last week making a couple of major statements thanks to an offense that scored an American League-best 42 runs in the seven games. First they went into Oakland and won two out of three. Big deal? Remember the A's were the team that trailed the Rangers by five games with nine to play last year, beat the Rangers five out of six in that season-ending stretch, and beat them out for the AL West title on the last day of the season. Following the Oakland series, the Rangers returned home, where they are a best-in-the-bigs 14-5, and knocked the Tigers out of first place in the AL Central. Texas took three of four from Detroit, including the series opener when it scored as many runs (eight) off Justin Verlander as he retired batters over 2 2/3 innings. Yes, the Rangers did suffer their first blown save of the season on Sunday night, when Miguel Cabrera unloaded three home runs. But that was merely a speed bump, with the Rangers rallying for an 11-8 victory. And this week will mark the beginning of the Jurickson Profar era, as the club called up the highly-touted shortstop, who will get regular time at second while Ian Kinsler recovers from a right intercostal muscle strain.
The Giants are in a definite funk. Even a series vs. the Rockies didn't pump them up. With a pitching staff that compiled a 7.71 ERA in a 1-5 week, the Giants dropped both games of a two-game visit to Toronto, and after winning the opener of a four-game set in Colorado, they lost three in a row. Big deal? Well, the Giants, 27-9 against the Rockies the last two seasons, had not lost a series in Colorado since 2008. San Francisco hadn't lost three games in a row to the Rockies since '09. And before Sunday, Barry Zito hadn't lost to the Rockies since '08. But right now, these aren't the Giants that have won two of the last three World Series championships. A fundamentally-sound team, they committed 13 errors last week. Even more shocking, their rotation ERA has climbed to 4.87, higher than every NL team except the Brewers.
The Pirates, who continue to get dominating pitching, are off to their best start (26-18) since 1991. After taking three of four from the Mets in New York the previous weekend, the Pirates went 5-2 at PNC Park, taking three of four from the Brewers and two of three from Houston, despite scoring only 23 runs. Milwaukee is only 3-14 in May, but it was a mental lift for the Pirates, who are 21-62 against the Brewers since 2008. A.J. Burnett started both losses during the week, but Jeff Locke continued to establish himself a go-to guy in the rotation, winning both of his starts, including a 1-0 affair against the Astros on Sunday. The young left-hander has allowed zero or one run in five of his last eight starts. Pittsburgh's climb back into second place in the NL Central has also been buoyed by the late-inning relief duo of closer Jason Grilli (17-for-17 in saves, two earned runs in 19 2/3 innings) and setup man Mark Melancon, who allowed only his second run in 23 innings this season in letting the lead get away in Saturday's 11-inning loss to the Astros.
Is a wakeup call coming? While Baltimore got off to a strong start, in game No. 42 on Saturday night, Jair Jurrjens became the 10th pitcher to start a game for the Orioles this year. Jurrjens gave up four runs over five innings of a 10-6 loss to the Rays. The offense didn't bail out Chris Tillman, who was the starter in the first and fifth game of last week's 0-5 stumble, despite allowing only four earned runs in 13 innings. In between Tillman's starts, however, the weakness of the Orioles' rotation was exposed. Freddy Garcia, Jason Hammel and Jurrjens combined to give up 15 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings. Expected ace Hammel is 5-2, but his ERA is 5.72, creating a concern. Wei-Yin Chen (oblique strain) and Miguel Gonzalez (blister on his right thumb) are on the disabled list. And if that's not enough cause for concern, closer Jim Johnson blew his first two save opportunities of the season.
UP: Red Sox
The naysayers were beside themselves when the Red Sox, arguably the biggest disappointment in baseball a year ago, followed up a surprising 20-8 start by losing nine of their next 11 game. The Sox, however, had an answer for the doubters. Boston rattled off a five-game winning streak to wrap up the week, including a sweep of the Twins at Target Field, one week after dropping three out of four to Minnesota at Fenway Park. With the help of another strong effort by the resurgent John Lackey (one hit in six innings before a three-hour rain delay Sunday), the Red Sox's pitching staff put together a 2.83 ERA. Surging David Ortiz anchored an offense that pounded out 36 runs, hitting .500 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 20 at-bats.
So much for the comforts of home. The Twins dropped seven of nine in a just-completed extended stay in the Twin Cities, falling below .500 and into a tie for last place in the AL Central. And it's the pitching staff that betrayed the Twins, even though Target Field is supposed to be a pitching paradise. How bad was it? Twins pitchers gave up 56 runs in nine games, and the Twins were outscored 33-14 in losing the final five games. Not a real promising turn of events considering that this week Minnesota has its bags packed. The Twins play 15 of their next 20 on the road, starting with visits to Atlanta and Detroit, both of whom can put runs on the board in a hurry. The Tigers lead baseball with 222 runs in their first 44 games, and the Braves scored 186 in their first 43.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.