Slugging rookie duo powering Rangers' playoff run

October 5th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- One full year ago, was a rising prospect in the Rangers’ system who had played only six games above High-A. had just wrapped up a 26-game debut season in the Majors that had seen him bat .204 with a 38.2% strikeout rate.

On Wednesday, those two rookies played pivotal roles in elevating the Rangers to their first postseason series win since 2011 as Texas topped the Rays 7-1 in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series.

“It says a lot about who they are and how tough they are and the calmness they have,” manager Bruce Bochy said of his two young bats.

Carter was nearly impossible to retire during the short series, showcasing the skills that earned him recognition as the franchise’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2022 and helped him record a 1.058 OPS in 23 regular-season games once he began his big league career on Sept. 8.

The outfielder, who turned 21 the day he made his MLB debut, reached base in his first six plate appearances of the series, which is the second-longest such streak in a player’s postseason debut, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“We joke around and say he's our little savior,” Jung said, a reference to Carter’s prayer hands celebration when he gets a big hit. “The impact he's had has been incredible.”

Carter’s impact was felt in Game 1 as he laced a pair of doubles and drew two walks to help the Rangers secure a 4-0 win. In Game 2, in what would be the final plate appearance of his perfect run, he provided one of the biggest -- and loudest -- blows of the contest: a two-run homer that came off his bat at 102.5 mph and gave the Rangers a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning.

That dinger made Carter just the second rookie in franchise history with a postseason homer, joining Mitch Moreland in 2010. At 21 years & 36 days old, he is the youngest Rangers player to homer in the postseason, and the 11th-youngest in MLB history.

The youngest Ranger reached base again in the eighth when he was hit by a pitch. Only two players have reached base more times than Carter through their first two postseason games: Hall of Famers Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez.

“Carter, gosh, this young kid has come up -- I don't even know if he knows that he's in the big leagues,” Bochy said.

Staying calm, cool and collected was a point of emphasis for Carter heading into this series. Even though he was about to enter the postseason after less than a month in the Majors, he understood the importance of not getting overwhelmed by the bigger stage and greater stakes.

“It's still a baseball game, same rules, all that,” he said Tuesday.

There’s not just a serenity around Carter; there’s confidence, too. The same sense surrounds Jung, who doubled in the third inning, picked up an RBI triple in front of Carter’s crucial homer in the fourth and added another double in the sixth. That final ball was blistered at 107.7 mph and ended up sticking in the padding of the left-field wall at Tropicana Field.

The big game made Jung the fourth Ranger to register three extra-base hits in a playoff game, and only the sixth rookie in MLB history to do so.

The 25-year-old third baseman had just two extra-base hits in his final 13 games of the regular season after missing six weeks due to a fractured left thumb. He wouldn’t say that he’s all the way back to the hitter he was in the first half of the season, when he became the Rangers’ first rookie All-Star starter. But what this game did for his confidence moving forward in the postseason can’t be understated.

“It is a huge confidence boost,” said Jung, who had a .515 OPS during his closing stretch of the regular season. “No matter how [the thumb] is feeling, I'm going to give you my best every single night. Yeah, when you miss six weeks and try to jump back in, you're going to go through your ups and downs, but it's a huge confidence boost for me today.”

The Rangers received fantastic efforts from starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi against the Rays. But their strength throughout this season has been a lineup that produced the most runs in the American League. As they advance to the ALDS against the No. 1 seed Orioles, Texas’ offense appears to be deeper than ever thanks to its two star newcomers.

“Seeing those guys hitting eight and nine today and really carry us in performing the way they did, it just gives me a lot of hope and excitement about the future of our organization,” general manager Chris Young said following the clinching victory. “They're winning players and they're shining in the most important moments, and it's invaluable."