Three weeks in, banged-up Rangers thriving

DALLAS -- April was supposed to be about surviving, not thriving. With a packed disabled list and a crowded training room, the Texas Rangers simply wanted to cobble together enough wins to hang around in a banged-up AL West.

Well, they’re doing a lot more than hanging around. The Rangers can head to Pike Place Market or the Space Needle on Thursday’s day off in Seattle knowing they are on top of not only the AL West, but the American League as a whole.

The Rangers are 14-8. Honestly, I think they’d have taken 14 wins for the month and been thrilled. Yet they’ve done it in the first 22 games of the season.

It’s a tribute to their super subs, the pitching staff and their character. They’ve become a resilient bunch, and with the arms making things difficult on opposing offenses, they’ve managed to score just enough runs -- at just the right time -- to win close games.

And take note: Reinforcements are coming this weekend.

Adrian Beltre, out for the past two weeks with a mild quad strain, returns Friday. Shin-Soo Choo will be evaluated, but could also see some action if he’s ready. Matt Harrison is scheduled to start Sunday, his first outing on a big league mound since last April.

Barring more injuries, there’s no reason to think this team can’t assimilate the rest of the returning players and perform at an even higher level.

This team currently has 11 players on the disabled list. I won’t go through all the names, but many of them are big ones. The Rangers swept Oakland with Michael Choice leading off the final two games with Choo’s sprained ankle keeping him off the field. They did it with Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy in the infield, two guys who were supposed to be competing for a utility infield spot and instead are getting meaningful time with Jurickson Profar out until June. They’ve vaulted to the top of the division with Kevin Kouzmanoff punishing opposing pitchers and playing solid third base the past two weeks with Beltre out.

Yet that hodgepodge lineup has 94 runs in 22 games, a very respectable 4.27 average per game. Texas is tied for third in the league in runs scored and leads the AL in batting average.

And then there’s the pitching staff, which has a staggering six shutouts so far this season. Think about that. The Rangers have held the opponent without a run in more than a quarter of the games played so far.

Without Derek Holland or Matt Harrison the first three weeks, the starting rotation has still managed to put up a 3.45 ERA, top-five in the league. The Rangers have two complete-game shutouts, both by Martin Perez, who has emerged as this team’s clear No. 2 pitcher. Texas came into Wednesday second to only the Angels in innings pitched by its starters.

It took about 10 days for the relievers to settle into their roles, but they’re clearly comfortable now. Joakim Soria won’t light up a radar gun or have fans cheering many strikeouts, but he finds ways to get the final three outs of the game. Alexi Ogando seems to have found his form. Jason Frasor is a steady, veteran presence in the seventh inning. Neal Cotts is pitching better. Manager Ron Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins have done a good job of figuring out what they have and how to deploy it.

Put it all together and this team is playing confident baseball, no matter who’s on the mound, at the plate or in the field.

The scary thing for the rest of the American League is that this isn’t the team that the Rangers expect to carry them through the summer. Add in the players getting healthy with the fact that Prince Fielder is starting to heat up -- 6-for-19 with a homer in his past six games -- and that nobody can score a run off Perez (26 scoreless and counting) and you’ve got a team to be feared.

April was supposed to be a monthlong fight just to stay respectable in the division. Instead, the ragtag Rangers have landed enough punches to find themselves with the best in the AL. Not bad for a team that limped out of Arizona less than a month ago.