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The Rangers Might Be MLB's Most Surprising Early Contender

This week's 3 Up, 3 Down spotlights the surging Rangers, Mickey's Mets and more.

Welcome to the latest installment of 3 Up, 3 Down, our weekly gauge of who’s streaking and who’s slumping throughout Major League Baseball. Our latest edition includes notes on Lance Lynn and the soaring Rangers, Dansby Swanson’s power surge and a particularly embarrassing moment in Seattle.

↑  The Respectable Rangers ↑ 

The Rangers have quietly crept past the Red Sox to hold the second AL spot entering Wednesday night. Texas enters Wednesday night having won 13 of its last 19. Playoff baseball may come back to Arlington sooner than expected.

Texas’ lineup has produced a healthy 5.8 runs per game since May 15, but its pitching staff has been the most pleasant surprise. The Rangers are allowing just 3.6 earned runs per game in their last 19, a mark that trails only the Rays, Astros and Dodgers. Texas has allowed three or fewer runs in 10 of its last 20, giving up just five runs in three games to close the weekend series against Kansas City. The summer air in Arlington should balloon the Rangers’ ERA in July in August, though the current pace should land the staff close to league average by season’s end.

Lance Lynn deserves the greatest share of credit for Texas’ strong stretch. The eight-year veteran has fanned 77 batters in 74 innings this season, riding a 2.97 ERA in his last five starts. The Rangers are Lynn’s fourth team in three seasons. Sustained success in 2019 could keep him in the Lone Star State for the foreseeable future.

↑  Colorado’s Mile-High Advantage ↑ 

The excitement over Nolan Arenado’s eight-year extension in Colorado quickly quieted after the Rockies’ abysmal 3–11 start, including a 1–11 stretch after two wins against the Marlins to open the season. Arenado and the Rockies’ lineup was noticeably quiet with just 2.8 runs per game through April 13. Ian Desmond underwent an early season whiff parade and the offseason loss of D.J. LeMahieu took its toll. Even after locking up Arenado long-term, a scuffling supporting cast made the postseason a tenuous bet.

The early-season anxiety sent Colorado to the bottom of the NL West, but the slump wasn’t anything Coors Field couldn’t solve. The Rockies ripped off eight home wins to close their most recent homestand, winning nine of ten from May 24 to June 2. Colorado enters Wednesday 1 1/2 games behind the Braves for the National League’s second wild-card. A third straight playoff appearance is firmly in play.

Arenado has been on an absolute tear during Colorado’s hot streak. The four-time All-Star slashed an outrageous .487/.545/.949 in Colorado’s 10-game homestand with five homers and 17 RBIs. The Dodgers are unlikely to fade from their perch atop the division, but another MVP-caliber campaign from Arenado could send the Rockies toward the playoffs.

↑ Atlanta’s Hottest Bat ↑ 

At risk of this column becoming an Atlanta Bravesfan account, we’d be remiss not to note Dansby Swanson’s impressive 2019. The former No. 1 overall pick struggled offensively through his first three seasons with the NL East stalwart, but has completely reversed his offensive output through May.

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The offseason work with Chipper Jones has already paid dividends, with Swanson smacking 12 homers in his first 59 games. Swanson’s last 12 games have been notably impressive, with a .333/.373/.677 slash line along with five home runs. The Braves have heated up along with Swanson’s bat, entering Wednesday night just a half game back of Philadelphia for first place in the NL East. Atlanta isn’t surprising anyone in 2019 after last season’s division crown, yet Swanson’s improvement marks one of more impressive turnarounds of the season.

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↓  The Mets' Unfriendly Confines ↓ 

The Mets would be in pretty good shape if they could stay put at Citi Field. New York is 15–10 in the friendly Queens confines in 2019, yet it sits third in the NL East at 28-32 after Tuesday’s extra-inning implosion against the Giants. Mickey Callaway and Co. have a serious case of the road woes to thank.

New York has the second-most road losses in all of baseball, now 13–22 away from home following a 1–6 west coast road trip last week. Dropping three of four to the Dodgers is acceptable (even considering a ninth-inning collapse on May 29). A sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks? Not so much. New York dropped each of the series’ first two games at Chase Field, then limped to a 7-1 loss on Sunday. Such an embarrassing stretch is unlikely to help Mickey Callaway’s standing with the folks upstairs, and it didn't help that he had to apologize after Tuesday's loss to the Giants. Brodie Van Waganen may have to make a decision sooner than later.

↓  Pittsburgh's Scuffling Staff ↓ 

Run production hasn’t been a problem for the Pirates of late. Josh Bell is bashing balls into the Allegany with glee and unheralded rookie Bryan Reynolds is hitting .350 in 132 plate appearances. In a crowded NL Central, its lineup has largely held up.

If only Pittsburgh’s staff got the memo. The Pirates have the second-worst ERA in the National League (trailing only the altitude-aided Rockies) and rank in the bottom third in opponent batting average and wins. Chris Archer’s ERA ballooned to 5.66 and Jameson Taillon is on the 60-day Injured List. Joe Musgrove hasn’t been much better, with career journeyman Jordan Lyles delivering the most reliable innings. If only Pittsburgh had Tyler Glasnow to help stabilize its staff...

↓  The Mariners Lowlight Reel ↓ 

There’s little competition for the worst defensive team in baseball. The Mariners have 69 errors through their first 64 games, 21 more than the White Sox for the second most in the majors. But Seattle took its defensive misery to a whole new level on Monday night.

Astros infielder Yuli Gurriel sent a ground ball to shortstop Dylan Moore with runners on first and third in the sixth inning. Instead of attempting to turn two, Moore slung the ball toward the plate to nab Alex Bregman. Small issue here: nobody was home. 

The Mariners are firmly in the AL West cellar at 25–39. Barring a sizable defensive turnaround, a second straight last place finish is likely.