Two of baseball's biggest surprises meet this weekend when the Baltimore Orioles open a three-game series against the visiting Texas Rangers on Friday.
The Rangers, who were coming off their sixth straight losing season, have won five of their past six games to improve to 31-18. They are three games ahead of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros atop the American League West.
"This is close to what I was hoping," Texas manager Bruce Bochy said. "I wanted us to get off to a good start. I thought that was important."
The Rangers were off on Thursday after taking two of three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates to open a nine-game road trip that concludes with a three-game series against the Tigers.
The Orioles, who posted their first winning season since 2016 last year, were expected to contend for a wild card. However, after earning a three-game sweep of the host Toronto Blue Jays and then taking two of three against the host New York Yankees, the Orioles are 33-17 -- their best start through 50 games since 1997 (35-15).
They have the second-best record in the majors, trailing only the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays (37-15).
"It's been great, and we've had a chance to win night in and night out," Baltimore outfielder Austin Hays said.
The Orioles are coming off a 3-1 win over the Yankees in the rubber match of a three-game series on Thursday.
Kyle Gibson gave up just two singles over seven shutout innings. Anthony Santander and Hays provided the big hits with a run-scoring single in the fifth and a two-run double in the eighth, respectively. Santander went 3-for-3 with a walk.
"This was a huge series win, and it's on to (Friday)," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said.
Baltimore took two of three against the Rangers in the teams' first matchup of the season, winning the opener 2-0 on April 3 before cruising to a 7-2 win in the second contest. Texas avoided the sweep with a 5-2 win that was its first victory over the Orioles in nine meetings.
The Orioles will give the ball on Friday to rookie Grayson Rodriguez (2-1, 6.21 ERA), who is coming off a solid outing in his latest start. The right-hander gave up two runs on four hits with six strikeouts and a walk in five innings during a no-decision at Toronto on Saturday.
Rodriguez, who hasn't lasted more than 5 2/3 innings in an outing, made his major league debut against the Rangers on April 5. He wasn't involved in the decision after yielding two runs on four hits with five strikeouts and a walk in five innings.
Texas right-hander Jon Gray (4-1, 3.02), who will start Friday, pitched well against the Orioles the last time he faced them. Gray picked up the loss despite allowing just two runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and two walks in 6 1/3 innings during a 2-0 setback on April 3.
In three career starts vs. Baltimore, Gray is 1-2 with a 3.68 ERA.
Gray was sharp on Saturday, allowing just a run on five hits with six strikeouts and two walks over five innings of an 11-5 win over the visiting Colorado Rockies.
--Field Level Media