Corey Seager He only knew of a win when he left the Dodgers two season breaks ago to sign a $325 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Losing was alien to the shortstop. Then it happened last year.
The Rangers lost 94 games. They fired manager Chris Woodward after four terrible seasons. The $556 million they donated to Seager, second baseman Marcus Semien and starting pitcher Jon Gray last winter seemed foolish.
“I think it was a big learning curve for us, you know?” Seager said.
The agonizing lesson, a winter focused on improving the starting rotation and the surprise hire of Bruce Bochy as manager resulted in a quick turnaround. The Game Wardens entered the All-Star break at the top American League West with a record of 52-39, the sixth-best mark in the majors and two games ahead of the Houston Astros. Her run differential of plus 148 is the second-largest in any major league, one run behind the Tampa Bay Rays. They have scored 25 more runs than any other club.
That success was evident in Tuesday’s All-Star Game with five Rangers in the starting XI – the most for a team since the Cincinnati Reds in 1976. That year, the Big Red Machine led 7-0 in the postseason, beating the New York Yankees to win their second straight World Series title. Reaching the playoffs would be a win for Rangers. They haven’t done that since 2016.
“The only thing you really want as a player is to be able to get on the field and win every day,” said Rangers catcher Jonah Heim, one of the team’s five All-Star starters and six overall. “So we’re excited to see where we are right now; There’s still a lot of baseball to play.”
Rangers’ rapid rise could change the major league landscape. Armed with a new ballpark (with a must-have retractable roof), an owner willing to spend, and a Top 5 market popular with baseball players, the Rangers could become a destination for top talent. A possible recruit this off-season? Clayton Kershaw, who spoke candidly about the decision of whether to re-sign with the Dodgers before last season or go home and play for Rangers.
“I find [it’s become a destination]said Semien, the AL’s second baseman. “Many of my former teammates ask me how it is here. I tell them it’s great. I was also able to move my family to Texas. I think it’s very desirable for players who have families.
“And we’re playing for Bruce Bochy, who’s one of the best in the game. Our general manager played. I played against [general manager] Chris Young. So he’s someone who understands what we’re going through and where we’re going. And our ownership is geared towards winning a championship so it’s a good place to be at the moment.”
The Rangers’ plan for continued success begins with Seager.
The 29-year-old cornerstone was already considered an elite hitter in his seven years with the Dodgers. He was named Rookie of the Year. He was selected for two All-Star Games. He was named the World Series Most Valuable Player and felt at home two years before Globe Life Field became his home. Without injuries there would have been more awards.
But this season is the best statistical season of his career so far.
Aided by shift limitations that helped left-handers in the majors, Seager hits .353 with 12 home runs and a 1.026 on-base plus slugging percentage in 59 games. His 3.9 bWAR is the club’s best despite missing more than a month with a hamstring injury. Were it not for Shohei Ohtani’s dominance, he would certainly be in the AL MVP talk after batting .245 with an OPS of .772 last season.
“Having him is a confidence boost for the lineup,” said Josh Jung, the Rangers All-Star’s third baseman. “It’s like, ‘Corey smokes the ball around. Why can’t we smoke the ball around? He comes on base and drives runs. He missed, what, a month of the season? And he beats everyone in RBIs and doubles and all that stuff. So it’s totally insane to see how he does all his business.”
With Seager and Semien, the Rangers probably have the most powerful midfield of the majors. Heim has a career year behind him. Adolis García, the AL right starter, has 23 home runs. Jung has become an elite third baseman by the age of 25.
On the pitching side, at least for now, Rangers have gotten over the disappointment of losing top player Jacob deGrom, who signed a five-year, $185 million deal in the winter, after just six starts for the season.
Nathan Eovaldi, also signed during the off-season, became Rangers’ sixth All-Star after posting a 2.83 ERA in 18 starts. Gray (3.29 ERA) and Dane Dunning (2.84 ERA) bolstered a rotation that absorbed disappointing first halves from experienced left-handers Martín Pérez and Andrew Heaney.
“Knowing what to change and being able to change it is a big thing,” Seager said. “And I think we did that. We approached the pitching staff. Our position players had more time together and were more comfortable and we just know what to do now.”
Seager knows that championships aren’t won with regular-season success. He learned that in Los Angeles. But it’s the first step in proving that Rangers are real – for now and for years to come.