6-23-08 -- Though the season wasn’t even a month old, it was looking like a lost cause for the Texas Rangers in late April. About two months later, however, the club is on the verge of attaining its best winning percentage in more than a year and a half.
The Rangers look to move two games over .500 for the first time since late in the 2006 season on Tuesday night when they visit the Houston Astros for the opener of a three-game interleague series.
Texas (39-38) lost 12 of 14 games from April 11-24 to fall to 7-16 on the season, putting the team on pace for its fourth straight losing campaign and its manager, Ron Washington, on the hot seat. Since that stretch, however, the Rangers have gone 32-22 to reclaim a winning record.
They pulled one game over .500 for the fourth time this season with a 5-3 win over Washington on Sunday. They haven’t been two games over .500 since they were 78-76 on Sept. 22, 2006.
“We’ve been here before. We’ve got to continue to play good baseball,” Washington said. “And that will take care of itself.”
Washington’s players were just as confident in the team’s ability to continue its strong play.
“We’re a game over .500 right now,” outfielder Marlon Byrd said. “On Tuesday, we’ll be two games over.”
To fulfill that guarantee, the Rangers will have to beat an Astros team that’s hoping it has begun its own resurgence. Houston (35-41) had lost 17 of 20 games before taking two of three against Tampa Bay over the weekend. With Sunday’s 3-2 victory, the Astros became the first team to win a series against the Rays at Tropicana Field since the Chicago White Sox won two of three from April 18-20.
“It’s definitely a start,” reliever Wesley Wright told the Astros’ official Web site. “When you’re struggling, you have to start somewhere and work your way back to where you want to be. This series was a big one for us because they’re one of the better teams in the AL. It’s kind of a measuring stick to where we’re trying to go and what we need to do to get there.”
Getting there could be a little more challenging if second baseman Kaz Matsui misses time with a strained right hamstring he suffered Sunday.
“I just had a little pain (after running to first),” Matsui said through a translator. “It’s felt tight lately. I’ll have to wait and see how it feels tomorrow.”
The Rangers, meanwhile, have been without outfielder Milton Bradley, who hasn’t started in five games because of a strained left quadriceps. Bradley, tied with New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for tops in the AL with a .332 batting average, hopes to return Tuesday.
That’s good news for Texas’ Eric Hurley (0-0, 4.91 ERA), who’s making his third career start and his first against Houston. The right-hander gave up two runs in five innings of the Rangers’ 5-2 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday.
The Astros will counter with Brian Moehler (3-3, 4.35), who held Baltimore to one run in 6 1-3 innings of Houston’s 2-1, 10-inning defeat on Wednesday.
Moehler is 5-4 with a 4.96 ERA in 11 career games - nine starts - against the Rangers, who won two of three against the Astros in Arlington from May 16-18.
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, leading the AL with 19 homers and the majors with 76 RBIs, went 7-for-8 with two homers, five RBIs and five runs scored as Texas won the first two games of that series. Hamilton didn’t start the finale, which the Rangers lost 5-4.