At this moment, the Texas Rangers are 10-6 and in sole possession of first place in the AL West. They've completed just under ten percent of their 2016 schedule, and now, as winners of 4-straight -- including a sweep of the division rival Houston Astros -- head to Chicago to take on the White Sox.
Texas will manage to dodge facing Chris Sale, instead drawing Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, and Mat Latos. Latos, the owner of a shiny 0.49 ERA after three starts, would be a guy I'd imagine is due to get roughed up a little. His strikeouts are down, his FIP and xFIP -- 2.83 and 4.79, respectively -- would seem to suggest that he's had a bit of good fortune behind him. A BABIP of .118 would seem to back that up.
Meanwhile, the Houston Astros will welcome the Boston Red Sox to Minute Maid Park. The Red Sox have produced the 2nd-most runs in the American League up to this point while scoring 74 runs. The most? Your Texas Rangers, with 77.
In other words, while Texas will be on the road facing a team that struggles to score runs, dodging their ace in the process, Houston, now at 5-11 and last in the AL West, will be taking on another prolific lineup. It wouldn't surprise me to see Houston more than 5 games back in the division by the end of the weekend.
It's a far cry from where things stood at this time last season. At this point in 2015, Texas couldn't seem to put together any sort of solid baseball, and they were without Yu Darvish. The Astros were the team lighting the baseball world on fire. And while things turned around by the end of the season, it can be argued that the head-to-head record between the two teams was the biggest difference in Texas finishing the 2015 season with a 2-game edge on Houston.
The biggest difference between this year and last? Heading into 2015, neither team was expected to realistically compete by many in the national media. The Astros were seen as still being a year away, and in injury-riddled 2014 had soured many on the Rangers, not to mention the prospect of Yu Darvish pitching exactly zero games for the team in 2015. Of course, we know now that the Astros arrived a year earlier than many thought. Texas managed to hang on just enough to be relevant as the season wore on. Of course, it also helped that Cole Hamels effectively picked Texas over Houston at the trade deadline.
Something else to chew on? Houston just played its first three games within the division in their 2016 season. After their series against the Red Sox, they'll play 10 of 13 games within the division. Texas has already played 13 games within the division, winning 8 of those contests. As we head into the month of May, Houston and the rest of the AL West will be beating up on each other. Texas? How about getting some guy named Yu Darvish back being on the horizon?
So while there isn't much to be gained from one three-game series in mid-April, there's something to be said for taking care of business early and not needing to dig out of a hole all season long. The 2015 Rangers were able to dig out of that hole. It remains to be seen how well the 2016 Astros can do the same, or if perhaps they'll end up buried even deeper.
This may seem obvious, but I wouldn't expect the Rangers to hit so well against Dallas Keuchel moving forward. He was the AL Cy Young Award winner last season for a reason, and the smart money would be on him having more good outings than bad going forward. Thursday night was the exception, not the rule.
So, no, there's probably nothing predictive or even substantial to put our collective finger on that will ever say that this past week of baseball was the difference in the division. Even with a full season of results, it's often difficult to find meaning in the madness.
Even with the top run-scoring offense in the American League, FanGraphs apparently doesn't think much of the Rangers, still seeing them as the worst team in the AL for the rest of the season. And if you're inclined to believe that, go right ahead. I just can't wrap my head around that kind of thinking.
And no, in the grand scheme of the season, a three-game sweep in April probably won't hold much overall meaning come September... until it does. And while we'll have to wait and see if each team continues to trend in their respective directions, it sure is nice to be on the winning side at this point of the season for a change.