SEATTLE — What is it going to take for the Rangers to make a move in the American League West this season?
That seems to be the question, night in and night out, as the team moves through the second half of the schedule and finds itself struggling to gain momentum.
It was the case again on Monday night in a 4-3 loss to the Mariners, the team that’s in front of them in the division, in the opener of a three-game series in T-Mobile Park that marked the fifth game in an 11-game road trip.
Once again, as the case has largely been over the last few weeks, Texas fought through most of the nine innings but just couldn’t close the deal. In a game reminiscent of the four they lost to the Mariners in Arlington right before the All-Star break, the Rangers did not get the timely hit, the clutch strikeout or the key defensive play that would spark them to victory.
They played their 27th one-run game of the 2022 season. They’ve lost 22 of them.
“There’s a lot of little plays there that we have to make,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “They made some plays. We didn’t. They made some pitches. We didn’t. We had opportunities at the end.
“If we’re going to win games, we’ve got to find a way to get it done. We had them on the ropes and just didn’t have a big hit or a bit at-bat. We’re going to find a way to get them.”
Things looked promising when Texas opened the scoring in the third inning. Ezequiel Duran led off with a single against Mariners starter Chris Flexen, moved to second on a Josh H. Smith base hit, and scored two batters later on a Flexen wild pitch to make it 1-0.
But that would be the last time the Rangers would lead.
The Mariners sent seven batters to the plate in the fourth inning and scratched out two runs on four singles off Texas starter Glenn Otto, and they added on when Ty France hit a solo home run over the center-field wall in the fifth, increasing Seattle’s lead to 3-1.
The Rangers clawed back to within a run in the top of the sixth when Adolis García led off the inning with a line-drive home run to right field, but the Mariners made it 4-2 against Texas reliever Brock Burke in the bottom of the seventh.
Burke gave up a one-out single to Sam Haggerty, then walked J.P. Crawford and hit France with a pitch to load the bases. Carlos Santana then legged out a fielder’s choice, preventing a double play and driving in a run.
The Rangers went down in order on groundouts in the seventh against flamethrowing Mariners right-hander Andrés Muñoz, and in the eighth, after García worked a two-out walk against righty Paul Sewald, he was caught stealing to end that threat.
The Rangers got back to within one when Nathaniel Lowe took Seattle reliever Diego Castillo deep for a solo homer to right field in the ninth. They made it even more interesting by putting runners on first and second with nobody out against Castillo on a Leody Taveras single and a Kole Calhoun walk.
But Castillo struck out Duran before departing, and Mariners righty Erik Swanson got Smith to pop out foul to third base and Marcus Semien to ground out to shortstop to end it.
There were some bright spots for Texas, of course.
Otto was by no means dominant, but he gave the Rangers a chance to win. He went 5 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on seven hits. He struck out five and walked one. It was his second consecutive start in which he only gave up three runs. The other, on July 17 against Seattle, also was a loss.
García’s remarkable power surge continued. Since the All-Star break, he has gone 9-for-20 with three homers, a double and eight RBIs.
Lowe might have busted out of a recent funk at the plate, with a double to go along with his ninth-inning homer.
“There have been a lot of one-run games, and at the end of the day, you look back and think about what could be done better,” Semien said. “This stuff has been happening, but everyone in this room believes in themselves. We have to just stay positive.”
So how do the Rangers snap out of this?
They have now lost three of their last four, seven of their last nine, and eight of their last 11. However, six of their last nine defeats have been by two runs or fewer. They are 43-52 and eight games out of the AL Wild Card picture behind the second-place Mariners.
As Woodward reiterated after the game, teachable moments build culture and character, but at some point they have to turn into W’s.
“I don’t know if it’s something we have to go through and why it’s happening every time,” Woodward said.
“But we have some [darn] good ballplayers on this ballclub that I know will figure it out.”