HERE COMES THE ASTROS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers got off to a bad start this week as they lost two of three to Tampa Bay. It was particularly disappointing as all three games were very winnable, especially game three on Wednesday night, when Texas needed just one out to wrap up the game and a series win. Instead, Kevin Kiermaier tagged Matt Bush for a home run to tie the game, and Sam Dyson gave up two more round trippers in the tenth as the Rays rallied for a 7-5 win.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Astros stayed blistering hot scoring 40 runs in three games for a sweep of the Twins. That’s the most the Astros have ever scored in a series in franchise history which dates back to 1962. The end result is that the Rangers fell to third place in the West, 12 games behind division leading Houston.

Texas scored 22 runs in the series with Tampa Bay, but won just once – Tuesday by the score of 9-5. That game was of the come from behind variety as the Rangers trailed 5-2 going to the bottom of the seventh, but rallied for three runs to tie the game on Elvis Andrus’s seventh home run with two runners on base and added four more in the eighth inning for the win. Andrus drove in two of the eighth inning runs for a new career high of five RBIs in a game.

Monday night’s game was almost as disappointing as Wednesday’s. Martin Perez made perhaps his worst home start of the season. He was given leads of 3-1, 4-1, 4-3, 5-3 and 7-5., but couldn’t shut down Tampa Bay. The Rays unloaded on Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Claudio and Tony Barnette for five seventh inning runs to take the game 10-8.

There has been criticism of manager Jeff Banister’s bullpen usage, but quite frankly, he’s only playing the hand he has been dealt. The Rangers’ bullpen simply isn’t very good. It’s a difficult problem to fix in early June. The Rangers’ minor league cupboard is bare, and trades are difficult to make at this point in the season.

Texas did designate Sam Dyson for assignment. Dyson began the season as the Rangers’ closer. He saved 38 games last year in 42 opportunities. This year though, he’s been miserable. He has a 1-6 record, with a 10.80 ERA. He’s given up almost as many home runs (six) as the number of batters he has struck out (seven).

There is interest from other teams such that Dyson will likely get traded. He certainly was a key contributor last season, and he has a good arm that delivers fastballs north of 95. Hopefully for him, a better pitching coach can get him straightened out. Jose LeClerc will be activated for Friday’s game to take Dyson’s roster spot.

Wednesday’s game marked the one-third point of the season. That’s enough of a sample to look at the Rangers and say what they are. Right now, they are a team struggling to get to .500. At the end of the season, they may well be the same, though if the season continues for the next six weeks in similar fashion, a number of faces could be gone in trades for prospects.

Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli, Carlos Gomez, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Yu Darvish are all on contracts that expire at the end of the season. All of them, especially Darvish, could attract interest from pennant contending teams looking for veteran help. The Rangers’ farm system could use the boost that prospects traded for these veterans would bring.

The Astros are in town this weekend for three of the final 15 meetings between the Texas franchises. With school out and a hot Houston team, the crowds should be large. If the Rangers are to get back into the A. L. West race, they need to dominate in these games with Houston. 8-7 won’t do. Texas needs to win at least 10.

The bottom line is the time is now. It’s no longer a long season for the Rangers. If they are going to be a contender, they need to start this weekend.

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