BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Houston took the lead in this year’s race for the Silver Boot by sweeping Texas in a three game series to start this week. It was just the second sweep for the Astros since the series began; the first since 2003. The Silver Boot is the rotating trophy that stays with the winner of the Lone Star series. Houston has now won five consecutive games between the two teams for the first time ever and leads for the Silver Boot 6-3 with 10 games remaining.

The Houston series is emblematic of the Rangers’ season. A year ago, Texas easily thumped the Astros for the Silver boot with a 17-2 record. A year ago, the Rangers won 91 games and just missed the playoffs when they lost to Tampa Bay in a playoff for the final Wild Card spot. Now, the Rangers are 15 games under .500 and trail first place Oakland in the A. L. West by 19 games. Instead of fighting for a playoff berth, the Rangers are fighting the Astros for fourth place; and with this week’s sweep, Houston is percentage points ahead of Texas. The Rangers woke up Thursday morning with the worst record in baseball.

The first two games of the series were similar in that Houston grabbed an early lead and never gave it up. Miles Mikolas started game one for Texas. He set the Astros down in order in the first inning with two pop outs and a strikeout, and that was the highlight of his day. The first five Astros in the second inning singled followed by a triple from Marwin Gonzalez, who later scored on a ground out. That gave the Astros a 6-0 lead. The Rangers pecked away at the lead with single runs in the second and third innings, but Jon Singleton essentially put the game away for Houston with a three-run home run in the fourth.

12-7 was the final. Mikolas (0-1) took the loss after giving up nine runs on 12 hits in 3-1/3rd innings. Scott Baker gave up the other three runs. Houston’s Jason Cosart (9-6) was the winning pitcher though he got hit hard too. He barely got through the five innings required of a starting pitcher for a win, giving up six runs on nine hits.

The Astros finished with 17 hits, while Texas had 11. Adrian Beltre hit the only Ranger home run.

On Tuesday, the Astros didn’t wait until the second inning to take the lead. They tagged Phil Irwin, making his Ranger debut, for two runs in the first. The Astros maintained that two run lead at 5-3 after seven innings, but put the game away in the eighth with three runs, one of which came on Chris Carter’s 17th home run. They again reached double digits in hits with 12. 8-3 was the final score. Brad Peacock (3-5) was the winning pitcher, and Irwin (0-1) took the loss.

Wednesday night, Yu Darvish was the Rangers’ hope to avoid the sweep. He was staked to four early runs, but it wasn’t good enough. He gave up six runs on 10 hits and took the loss to drop his record to 8-5. He had command issues on his rare off night. One Astro run scored on a wild pitch. Among the 10 hits he allowed was a home run to Robbie Grossman that tied the game at four in the fifth inning.

Carlos Corporan doubled home two runs in the sixth to give Houston a 6-4 lead. They added two more in the seventh inning with a George Springer home run. That made the final score 8-4. Dallas Keuchel (9-5) was the starting and winning pitcher for Houston.

The Astros arrived on a seven game losing streak, but they played with more energy and enthusiasm. After three years in the basement, they have a real chance of climbing over Texas for fourth place in the West. They played sharper, crisper ball than the Rangers. George Springer was especially impressive. He was 4-14 in the series with a home run, three runs scored and three RBIs. He made a catch Wednesday night that finished number one on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day.

Texas made three errors in the series and misplayed other balls from a lackadaisical effort. The Rangers look lethargic; like they are ready for the All-Star break. Certainly a lot of the difference between the two teams is mental. Scrambling to stay out of the basement is a comedown for Texas. Having a chance to get out of last place after three straight years with the worst record in baseball is an exciting prospect for the Astros.

The Rangers have now lost four straight games and 10 of their last 11. The so called “first half”, the portion of the season prior to the All-Star game, concludes with four games this weekend at home against the Angels. Barring a rainout, Texas will have played 95 games in the “first half”, which is actually 59% of the season.

Texas has twice played the Angels this year in three game series in Anaheim, but this weekend’s series will be the first in Arlington. The Angels won four of the first six games. The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Colby Lewis (6-5) on Thursday, Nick Tepesch (3-4) on Friday, Miles Mikolas (0-1) on Saturday and Phil Irwin (0-1) on Sunday.

INJURIES AND ROSTER MOVES: On Monday, the Rangers added reliever Roman Mendez and outfielder Jake Smolenski, calling both up from Round Rock. To make room on the active roster, outfielder Michael Choice was optioned to Round Rock, and infielder Donnie Murphy was designated for assignment. Nick Martinez was scratched from his Tuesday start with a back problem caused by taking batting practice in anticipation of pitching last weekend against the Mets in New York. He was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday, and Phil Irwin was called up from Round Rock to start Tuesday’s game. Also, General Manager Jon Daniels said on ESPN radio (103.3 FM) on Monday that Derek Holland was probably a month away from joining the team. He admitted that if the team was in contention, they would likely accelerate the pace of his rehabilitation, but they are being more cautious because the team is out of contention.


* After Mendez, Smolenski and Irwin appeared in the Astros series, the Rangers have used 48 players this year, including 27 pitchers. (Mitch Moreland is included in the pitcher count.) Irwin became the 12th pitcher to start a game for the Rangers this year. 14 of the players used have been rookies. Last year for the entire season, the Rangers used 46 players including 24 pitchers and 13 rookies. The Rangers’ record is 55 players used in a season in 2008.

* Phil Irwin became the 1,000th player in the history of the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers franchise to appear in a game.

* Adrian Beltre had at least one hit in all three games with Houston to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He is hitting .388 during the hitting streak, his longest of the season, which has lifted his average for the year to .336. He will be making his fourth All-Star appearance next week in Minnesota.

* Jake Smolinskki doubled home a run in the seventh inning on Tuesday night for his first Major League hit and RBI. He became the fifth Ranger batter this season to get his first Major League hit, joining Rougned Odor, Daniel Robertson, Luis Sardinas and Nick Tepesch for the distinction.

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