That had to feel really good for the Astros. Houston 8, Texas 4: Adrenalizing, cathartic, you-can-breathe-now stuff.
The Astros, whose fans didn’t have very good nights on Monday or on Tuesday, on the scoreboard or otherwise as their club dropped the first two of three as Texas came visiting the domed Inferiority Complex.
The Astros, who won their fourth and final matchup out of 19 against the Rangers in 2016, slightly less failed than their 2-17 mark in 2013 — unless you consider that the 2013 Astros lost 111 games, which in context (they are 72-55 this year when not playing Texas, compared to the Rangers’ 72-56 mark against other teams) makes this year’s spit-up against Texas a whole lot more failed.
The Astros, who said “no” to managerial candidate (and hometown product) Jeff Banister a month before the Rangers interviewed and hired him.
The Astros, whom Cole Hamels said “no” to nine months after that, days before he happily packed his bags for Texas.
The Astros, who then traded two of the key players they’d offered Philadelphia for Hamels (lefthander Josh Hader and outfielder Brett Phillips) to Milwaukee instead, getting Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, one of whom has been a below-league-average starting pitcher and the other of whom the Astros gave up for nothing a month ago, after which the Rangers picked him up for next-to-nothing, getting .775 OPS production out of the 30-year-old, compared to the .594 he put up for the Astros.
Gomez has been vocal about the coaching and the culture in Texas and how both were new and refreshing changes from what he’d experienced in Houston.
In contrast, Colby Rasmus was vocal about the Rangers taking steps to get better at the trade deadline — acquiring Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran, both of whom Houston had reportedly checked in on — on the heels of sound-bite remarks by his general manager who made it pretty clear that he was more interested in years that didn’t end in ’16 and “wasn’t prepared” to move top prospects for pennant race help (even if controllable beyond this season).
(Never mind the $47.5 million spent this summer on Yulieski Gurriel for his age 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36 seasons. That doesn’t count because it doesn’t negatively impact those precious farm system rankings. Also: Peace out, Hooks. Thought you had those hated RockHounds. And go get ’em, JetHawks. Take the Blaze down and make the organization really super-turbo-proud.)
The Astros are really good right now, in spite of (1) their record against Texas and (2) what their own front office apparently thinks, at least when it’s publicly on-message.
The largest newspaper that covers the Astros started the season with a “Dallas sucks” hatepiece (the city, not the broken Astros ace), embarrassing clickbait that I’m not going to link here and that’s about as classy as fans throwing fruit and baseballs at Carlos Gomez.
Much more recently (this week, in fact, after Houston’s 14th loss of the season to Texas two nights ago), that same paper called the Rangers “the team from South Oklahoma,” which is smart, finely crafted, highbrow humor right there. Strong.
And Tuesday, a talk show host in Houston applauded Jason Castro’s bat to the back of Lucroy’s catching helmet, adding: “Lucroy looks like a scraggly dirtbag. He doesn’t fit the mold of the Astros.”
I’m just glad the Astros didn’t feel Jeff Banister was the best fit for their mold, and that Cole Hamels wasn’t digging that mold, either.
As Joe Sheehan points out, the Rangers went 10-1 against Houston this year in games decided by one run or in extra innings — and that that nine-win gap is virtually what separates the two teams.
Is that luck? Lance McCullers Jr. thinks so. (Other Astros may, too, but McCullers went to the air with it: “They get lucky a lot against us.”) I suppose Ken Giles agrees, since he proclaimed after Texas won the first seven match-ups of the season that Houston “ha[d] more talent” than the Rangers, whom he and his boys were fixin’ to “go out there and put . . . to the ground.”
In the remaining three games of that early June series and in each of the ensuing three-game series between the teams, Houston won once and Texas won twice, a collective 4-8 stretch that left the Astros 4-15 against Texas for the year. I wasn’t sure what “put to the ground” meant, but that clears things up.
In two of those final three series that the Astros dropped to Texas two games to one, including this week’s, they nonetheless outscored the Rangers, run-diff’ing the best team in the American League while the Rangers were busy win-diff’ing them.
I don’t have a good feel for what the team culture is like in Houston. I’m a big fan of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and George Springer and Alex Bregman and Chris Devenski, but it seems like the time-tested way to win with guys like that, in the stage of the career they’re at, is to have veteran leaders around who have been through the wars and can help set a tone.
Gomez raves about the Texas clubhouse. Beltran says the looseness of the room is in direct contrast to how quiet and tight it was in New York.
Mark DeRosa says of the eight teams he played for, “none treats their players better than the Texas Rangers.”
That’s been a few years, you say? DeRosa adds that Ian Desmond, a player he helped steer toward Texas seven months ago, says he’s never had as much fun playing the game as he’s having now, with this group of players and coaches.
And then there’s Lucroy, who this week told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times: “The veteran leadership here, on the players’ side, is just astounding. And the coaching staff is awesome. They let Adrian [Beltre] run the clubhouse, and it’s a tight ship. Guys watch what he does: He plays every single day hard. Guys take that example, and they follow it.”
Who’s that guy in Houston?
Does it matter to the Jeff Luhnow front office if that guy isn’t there?
Houston is missing some things, it would seem, though even its holes would have been masked had the club just been able to handle the Rangers at a level anywhere close to the way it’s handled the rest of the league.
Big win last night for the Astros, who go into 2017 with a one-game win streak against those cross-state rivals that hammered them all season long (again), and who hold steady in the sixth spot vying for two AL Wild Card berths — a position they’d be as far from as South Oklahoma if they managed to merely split this year’s head-to-head with the Rangers.
See ya again on May 1st, Houston. Go get the Mariners, even if you have to do it without Altuve and without Bregman.
And Go JetHawks.
So . . .
Wins come in all kinds of different forms, as therefore do losses, and if I were blogging the Astros season I don’t know that I’d have the will to write this one up.
Though, really, as new as the story line might have been Monday night, it was true to the formula, and I’m not sure I’d even have the strength to watch games against Texas if Houston were my team.
(Speaking of which, I know that when Nolan Ryan was with Rangers management, he insisted on attendance numbers reflecting actual bodies in seats rather than tickets sold. There’s just no way that’s the measure in Houston, which announced 22,147 on hand for last night’s game, which would be more than 52 percent capacity. As sparse as the crowd looked for this game against the Astros’ chief rival with the club hanging desperately onto playoff hopes, if this were “Price Is Right,” that first digit is the one I’d submit was false.)
There’s a lot I could comment about as far as Texas 4, Houston 3 (12) is concerned, but I could just as easily start and finish this report the way Heidi Watney opened the Texas-Houston highlights package overnight on MLB Network’s “Quick Pitch”:
“So . . . yeah.”
Probably today’s entry if I were writing with Astros-tint glasses on.
The game started with Carlos Gomez showered (don’t let that term exaggerate the numbers on hand) with boos, just as he was the last time he’d been in that ballpark, then wearing the home white-and-orange.
And, because of course, after watching Doug Fister’s first pitch for a strike, Gomez worked a walk.
Gomez’s final 25 Houston plate appearances were all at-bats. Not a single base on balls.
Included in that stretch were four hitless trips to the plate on August 5 against Texas: a groundout, foul popout, and strikeout facing Martin Perez, and a flyout to right off of Tony Barnette. Gomez only pinch-ran in the remainder of that three-game series.
Meanwhile, Gomez has started all but one game in his three weeks with Texas. His walk rate (14.5 percent of his plate appearances) is more than double what it was this year with Houston (6.5 percent). He has cut his strikeout-to-walk rate in half (4.76 vs. 2.40). In a little more than a fifth of the plate appearances, he has four home runs with the Rangers, compared to five with the Astros. He’s been more reliable defensively.
In his first moment in Minute Maid Park since being released, and in the first moment of this series, far more critical for one team than the other, Gomez walked, and that was just about perfect.
And the final moment of Texas 4, Houston 3 featured Jared Hoying, whom Jeff Banister, prioritizing defense, stuck with through two extra-inning at-bats (nearly rewarded with a two-run home run to pad the 12th-inning lead Rougned Odor’s blast had built), charging in on George Springer’s flare down the right field line, intercepting the ball’s path to the grass just as Odor was arriving as well, and leaping on the run not only to avoid a collision with Odor but to glove the ball in a pocket of air space that Odor’s glove couldn’t reach or spoil.
That catch, sealing Jake Diekman’s fourth save and the Rangers’ 14th win over the Astros this season in 17 opportunities, went the Rangers’ way, sort of epitomizing Texas vs. Houston in 2016.
Sam Dyson blew the save when Evan Gattis destroyed an inside 1-1 fastball, tying things at 3-3 with one out in the ninth, and while it was Dyson’s first run allowed in three weeks (seven straight scoreless efforts), in a way that was also emblematic of Texas-Houston there was some residual benefit.
One, it gave Keone Kela an opportunity to right himself after bad outings Tuesday and Saturday in Seattle and Anaheim. He faced eight Astros in the 10th and 11th, issuing one walk and permitting one hit (an infield single that might have been a 4-3 putout had he not stuck his pitching hand out and deflected the ball) while fanning the insanely hot Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa.
Two, it gave Diekman the chance to reverse a two-week trend of uncharacteristic ineffectiveness (four games, nine of 12 batters reaching safely — four on extra-base hits and four on walks, .625/.750/1.375 slash, 45 percent strike rate).
Diekman saw three batters, starting each with strike one.
Flyout to left.
Flyout to center.
Flyout to right, with Hoying grabbing it over Odor as if he were finishing off a posterizing Lob City dime.
Three, after Fister gave Houston only five frames, A.J. Hinch entrusted an inning to each of his winning bullpen pieces (Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris) before handing the ball to Ken Giles in the 10th, a sound baseball move in what was a 3-3 game since the home team can’t record a save in extra innings.
Having already expended Devenski, Feliz, Gregerson, and Harris — and not going to Pat Neshek for what would have been his first back-to-back-nights assignment since June 2 — Hinch sent Giles back out for the 11th after his 11-pitch 10th.
Giles retired the Rangers in order, as he’d done in his first frame, but it put 26 pitches of mileage on his arm, and now Giles may not be available tonight (or, theoretically, not at his sharpest if used).
Potentially being without your best pitcher in the second game of this huge series, having used him for two innings in a loss . . . .
So . . . yeah.
Whether Giles is out tonight or not, the possibility that Diekman and Kela might have turned a corner with their extra-inning work last night is super-encouraging, as this club marches toward 162+.
(Hey: Post-season T-shirts!)
Buster Olney tweeted this morning: “When HOU/TEX haven’t played each other in ’16, HOU 72-55, TEX 72-56. But Texas [is] 14-3 vs. [the] Astros and has singlehandedly wrecked their season.”
Those final four words scream hyperbolic cliché, but they’re right on in this case and, basically, inescapably true.
Texas, alone, and in all kinds of ways, has wrecked Houston’s 2016 season.
I haven’t even made mention of what Martin Perez and Jonathan Lucroy did last night, and both were arguably as big a part of the story as anyone.
I could have said a lot more about Odor’s night, which featured three more hits (run-scoring double, run-scoring single, flyout, walk, and the decisive homer — his third extra-inning game-winner this year) and padded his .333/.348/.697 season line against Houston in 69 plate appearances.
I could have spent time examining the 0-for-18 (with six strikeouts) to which the Texas staff held Houston’s formidable 1 through 4 hitters — Springer, Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Correa — on a night when even a little bit of production from those four could have changed the result.
There’s much more I could have written about Texas 4, Houston 3 from the Rangers’ standpoint.
If I were writing it from an Astros perspective, I’m afraid I’ve had said a whole lot less.
He may not be the player you’re thinking about right now if you stayed up for Texas 2, Los Angeles 1, or caught the highlights on Quick Pitch this morning.
He may not be that other player who defined the win for you, either.
Yu Darvish didn’t record the Rangers’ 84th win but he sure as hell was as responsible for it as anyone, including Adrian and Elvis, who had brilliant, decisive moments of their own.
Yu started 17 of 25 Angels with a strike and recorded 17 of his 20 outs on the ground or on strikes and issued just one walk — the first batter he faced — and scattered three hits and needed only 95 pitches to get through nearly seven even though he struck out nine and, most importantly, Yu emerged from a skidding rotation to give the Rangers a dominant effort and, next most importantly, gave the bullpen a breather, as Matt Bush and Sam Dyson were asked to record just seven outs, which they were able to do over the span of nine batters.
I can’t remember who said it, but I saw someone mention this week that run differential is one thing, but win differential is another. The Astros and Mariners are out-run-diff’ing Texas (which is +26 in wins, +19 in runs), but the Rangers now sit 9.5 and 10.5 games ahead of them, and, before this month ends, those two numbers are going to allow the Rangers to get their house in order going into 162+.
Yu Darvish shoving like he did last night is one loud step in that exact direction.
The starting pitchers’ collective ERA the last time through the rotation (38 hits allowed and 14 walks in 20 innings) is 11.70.
Which is worse than the 10.00 ERA (.324/.429/.559) that Jake Diekman sports over the last month of work (after he held hitters to a .153/.245/.241 slash with a 2.25 ERA over the first four months of the season).
The rest of this is for me, just as much as it’s for you.
A couple weeks ago, on August 24, after an ugly three-game road skid against the last-place Rays and the last-place Reds, with the Rangers seeing their lead on the division shrink to 5.5 games and on the verge of a big run of 14 against first-place Cleveland and the Mariners and Astros, I wrote this:
If, after play September 8, two weeks from tomorrow, Texas is still up at least five games in the West, I’ll feel good.
The division lead this morning is 8.5 games.
Three and a half weeks to get the pitching recalibrated.
Three and a half weeks until the awesome.
Go ahead: Make your plans for 162+.
That was exhausting.
I’m not a fan of games in which only a third of the 18 half-innings go scoreless.
Or when 16 batters reach by walk or plunk or error or wild strikeout pitch.
Or when innings last an average of 20 pitches.
Or when the only pitcher out of 11 who doesn’t allow credited runs or inherited runners to score is the one who takes the mound at 12:45 a.m.
West Coast baseball is irritating.
West Coast baseball like that is draining.
A dub’s a dub.
But, man, that was exhausting.
I got an email yesterday that I wanted to share with you.
As you know, we raised roughly $23,000 at Newberg Report Night three weeks ago, and it was split between Jose Luis Felomina, a Rangers scout in Curacao who is battling terminal cancer, and the Assist the Officer Foundation, which supports the families of fallen officers from the Dallas Police Department.
Felo sent this email, and I told him I would pass it along:
Curacao, September 5th, 2016
Dear Mr. Newberg,
I would like to extend my utmost gratitude to you and your organization for the generous donation to support me and my family in this battle. There are no words to express what this donation means to us. You can be sure that my family will make good use of this generous donation. Once again, thank you very much and keep up with the good work.
Jose Luis Felomina
My thanks to all of you as well.
The Rangers had come off a disappointing road trip, dropping three of five to the last-place Rays and the last-place Reds, and were flying back to Texas for what loomed as a very big homestand.
Four with AL Central-leading Cleveland.
Followed by six against the two teams chasing the Rangers, second-place Seattle and third-place Houston, 6.5 and 8.0 games back, respectively, each looking to capitalize on a three-game opportunity to make their September a whole lot more meaningful.
Texas split a pair of blowouts to start the Indians series, winning, 9-0, and losing, 12-1.
Since then, the Rangers have won many straight?
Let’s go, Yu.
Wins shouldn’t be frustrating, but Texas 10, Houston 8 wasn’t the most satisfying of victories, given that all the key bullpen pieces were needed in a game led by seven runs more than halfway through, and that a game which develops early the way that one did should never have us holding our breath at the end.
Not the cleanest way to get to the handshake line or the Powerade dump.
What is clean, however, is the resulting 81-54 record that radiates in mathematical baseball beauty: Half a season’s worth of wins, a third of a season in losses (which happens to be half the number of stitches on the baseball). A ratio (1/2 to 1/3) that results in that perfect and elusive .600 winning clip.
Setting aside the incidental math in favor of something perhaps more noteworthy, consider this: Texas, which has now beaten Houston 24 of 30 times since May 2015, is 12-2 against the Astros this year.
You don’t even need to reverse that 2016 number to ask what-if from a Houston perspective — if the Astros, a very good team, had merely managed to split these first 14 match-ups with the Rangers, they would be 76-58.
And Texas would be 76-59.
Correct: If the Astros, battling now to pass two teams in order to claim a Wild Card spot, had simply beaten Texas half the time so far this season, they’d be leading the West.
A year ago today, the Rangers trailed Houston in the division and had just moved into Wild Card position. And we know what happened.
This morning, the Astros aren’t in as good a spot as Texas was last year at this time, but they’re just two games out in the Wild Card race, and minutes after his club had battled back from 10-3 (with their best 2016 starter on the mound) to put the go-ahead run at the plate against their division and geographical rivals (who had their temporary number five starter going), the team they inexplicably can’t seem to beat, only to fall short in a game they’d turned from a laugher to a nail-biter, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow retweeted this:
I suppose Jon Daniels could have recirculated a tweet last night that his organization’s Dominican Summer League team has emerged from 42 DSL clubs to reach that league’s title game (to be played tomorrow) — the fourth straight year the Rangers will play for the DSL championship — but I’m pretty sure you’ll never see JD do that while his big league players are fighting in September to play in October.
Especially if they’d just lost an intense ballgame to their chief rivals. The ones they can almost never figure out a way to beat.
It made me think about Colby Rasmus’s comments a month ago after Luhnow essentially told the media (and, by extension, his own clubhouse) that, unlike the Rangers, who had just acquired Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran and Jeremy Jeffress, he wasn’t interested in taking three top minor league prospects to make his big league team better — at a time when Houston was just 5.5 games back in the division.
Said Rasmus then to the media (and, by extension, his own GM): “That shows that [the Rangers] are wanting to go out and better their team. They’ve already beaten us with what they had. I don’t doubt . . . that we can beat them on a given day. But that does show something, that they’re going out and doing that.”
Luhnow redistributes a tweet celebrating his High A farm club, while the team he’s primarily responsible for (and responsible to) is still washing off a grueling, critical two-run loss.
Wonder how former JetHawks Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel feel about that.
I’m fairly sure I know how Rasmus, who is going to be playing for a different organization in 2017, feels about it.
And I bet I know what Carlos Gomez, who singled and doubled and walked and scored three runs in a game decided by two runs, thinks about his own change in fortune.
I’m a big Altuve fan and a big Correa fan and a big Springer fan, but those guys would be better off having some veteran leaders around, guys who have been through the wars (here, as opposed to Cuba), and not being expected to fill that role themselves.
Gomez, too, for that matter.
Trading for the controllable Lucroy or for Beltran would have made a whole lot of sense for the Astros. Might have changed last night’s result, and possibly a good bit more (even if the farm system rankings took a hit).
But instead, it seems their GM is looking down the road to a time when Altuve and Correa and Springer, if all three are still around, will be those veteran leaders, setting the tone for Alex Bregman and A.J. Reed and whoever had drugstore champagne poured over their heads last night following Lancaster 4, Inland Empire 1.
The Astros are a lot better — right now — than their front office apparently believes.
You can look under the surface of the Rangers’ aesthetically pleasing 81-54 mark and suggest that, in some respects, they’ve been a little lucky this year.
I might look at the Astros and, in diagnosing where that club sits today and why, point at a few things under the surface as well.
David Price, with his insanely strange career mark against the Rangers (3-5, 5.52 in 13 regular season games, plus 1-6, 5.48 in six playoff starts and one relief appearance), by far his lifetime nemesis among teams he’s faced more than a couple times, served up a Shin-Soo Choo home run on his second pitch of the game, followed by an Ian Desmond line drive single and an Adrian Beltre line drive single and a (cleanup-hitting) Ryan Rua line drive single and, after a Prince Fielder double-play ground ball, an Elvis Andrus ground ball single that plated Beltre and Rua and gave Texas an early 3-0 lead.
Nick Martinez, who had held Boston off the scoreboard in the top of the first in what was just his second Rangers start of the season, threw a scoreless second and a scoreless third, and in the meantime his teammates pushed across another run in the second frame and two more in the third, ending Price’s night before a Friday night sellout crowd after just 2.1 innings, the shortest outing of the season for the five-time All-Star or for anyone else facing Texas this year.
The Red Sox (Hanley Ramirez) and Rangers (Fielder) traded home runs in the fourth, though Boston’s came with a runner on base. It was Texas 7, Boston 2, heading to the fifth.
Same score going into the sixth, when Jackie Bradley Jr.’s two-run shot tightened things a bit.
That 7-4 margin held up through the seventh, when both teams were retired in order neatly (four of six hitters on strikes), and in the eighth, when once again both clubs went three-up, three-down.
And then came the ninth inning, an outlier of epic proportions.
Jake Diekman (walk-strikeout-popout) surrendered a two-out, run-scoring double to pinch-hitting 4A catcher Sandy Leon, on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Diekman’s 29th of the inning. Texas 7, Boston 5, one out to go, Matt Bush on for Diekman.
Mookie Betts home run. Tie game.
Dustin Pedroia walk.
Xander Bogaerts ground ball single, Pedroia to third.
Wild pitch. Boston 8, Texas 7.
David Ortiz flyout.
Koji Uehara on for the bottom of the ninth. (The great Koji Uehara, who, for me, occupies a very lightly populated category, along with Mike Napoli.)
Fielder strikes out swinging.
Elvis Andrus strikes out swinging.
Rougned Odor strikes out swinging.
Boston 8, Texas 7 (F).
It was a brutal game to lose, in its self-contained context, but in the larger scheme all it did was drop the Rangers from a season-high 10-game division lead to nine.
I don’t mean to harsh your mellow this morning. I really don’t. In fact, to make up for it momentarily, here’s a really good hi-def clip of Jonathan Lucroy doing exceptionally bad things to his own batting helmet after Odor ended Tuesday night’s baseball game by doing exceptionally bad things to 98 from Edwin Diaz with one majestic swing.
And I’ll try making your morning even a little better by suggesting to you that the best news about Texas including 21-year-old lefthander Yohander Mendez yesterday in its initial set of moves to expand the active big league roster in September is that, as a result, we now know he’s not the player to be named later in the Lucroy deal with the Brewers.
No, the reason I dug up one ugly inning from more than two months ago was that, on June 24, Texas lost a junk-kick to Boston, 8-7, and there’s something insanely remarkable about that game.
It’s the only one-run game at Globe Life Park the Rangers have lost in 2016.
They’ve won 18 of those.
Now, that’s completely unsustainable (says Hugh).
That’s right. And that’s OK.
Because it doesn’t need to be sustainable with the cushion it’s helped the team build as September play gets underway.
Past is prologue but it’s not always statistically reliable. Rosters change.
Maybe the Rangers will play four more one-run games over these last 15 at home that we now know about and maybe they’ll lose three of them.
But for now, they’re 18-1 in that discrete split, helping lead to 80-54 (a 96.7-win pace), the best September-entering record in franchise history.
None of which matters nearly as much as the effort to establish the best October(/November) record in franchise history.
Or, in the meantime, the effort to stack the odds that most of those games will be played at home, where this team, with its really weird run differential, has proven to be insanely successful in one particular type of game that, while it does little to boost that run-diff number, does a whole lot to boost confidence that the club is equipped to win the most intense battles this game has to offer, perhaps a whole lot more often than not.