BACK TO YESTER YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

It was back to the heady days of 2016 for Ranger fans this weekend. Texas swept the high flying Nationals in a three game series in Washington, DC. It was the first time in more than a year that the Washingtonians were swept at home. For Texas, the sweep completed a 4-1 week, and with Houston losing two of three to the Angels at home, the Rangers shaved two games off the Astros’ West Division lead.

Texas looked like last year’s team with timely hitting, daring base running, lock down bull pen work, and starting pitching that was good enough. The team got major contributions from unexpected sources.

For example, they won Sunday behind a strong starting pitching performance from Austin Bibens-Dirkx. The 32 year-old Bibens-Dirkx was signed to fill out the AAA starting rotation with little expectation of seeing the light of day in the Major Leagues this year. On Sunday, he completed seven strong innings allowing a run on three hits, two of which came on the first three pitches he threw in the game. At one point, Bibens-Dirkx retired 19 consecutive batters.

He’s 2-0, as he out-pitched the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. Scherzer gave up three runs to take the loss and fall to 7-4.

It was a 1-1 game going to the seventh inning when the Rangers erupted for four runs on only two hits. 5-1 was the final score.

Robinson Chirinos was considered a weak link in the Rangers’ lineup last year, and the Rangers gave a king’s ransom to upgrade the catching position when they traded for Jonathan Lucroy. On Saturday though, it was Chirinos that belted a three run home run in the 11th inning to provide the winning margin in a 6-3 win.

Friday’s winning pitcher was starter Andrew Cashner, as he pitched seven strong innings allowing a run on six hits. The outing lowered his ERA to 3.17 and improved his record to 3-5. Cashner was recovering from injuries when the season began, but has come on to solidly be the number two starter in the Cole Hamels-less rotation.

Jonathan Lucroy supported Cashner with a three run home run.

Matt Bush retired two of the three batters he faced in the ninth inning to close out Friday’s game and earn his seventh save. 6-1 was the final score.

The Rangers outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the series in part because they rampantly ran the bases. They stole seven in the series including a season high five in Saturday’s game. Delino DeShields went 4-12 in the series to up his average to .293 and stole three bases.

The Rangers return to the home state to finish the current road trip with three games in Houston starting Monday night. At 30-32, Texas is still under .500 for the season and is in fourth place in the division trailing the Astros by 13 games (12 in the loss column). Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish leads off the series Monday night, but Astros’ ace Dallas Keuchel won’t face the Rangers. He’s on the disabled list with no projected time table to return. It’s a crack in the armor that the Rangers need to take advantage of if they have any hope of getting back into the race for the A. L. West pennant.

Hopefully for Ranger fans, the good times of the 2016 season will continue for another series, if not considerably longer.

NOTABLE:

* Elvis Andrus had at least one hit in each game of the Washington series to bring his current hitting streak to 15 games. That’s the longest current streak in the Major Leagues and is one game short of Andrus’s career best.

* Adrian Beltre got back in the lineup for the final two games of the series starting at third base, after suffering an ankle sprain earlier in the week against the Mets. He was 0-4 Sunday to end his eight game hitting streak and is hitting .333 for the season. He also stole a base in Saturday’s game and has at least one stolen base in each of his 20 Major League seasons.

* Texas is now 10-2 in interleague play this season.

* Texas used 19 of 25 active players in Saturday’s game, the most since June 15, 2004, when they also used 19 of 25.

* On the injury front, Tyson Ross is expected to be activated and start next weekend either Saturday or Sunday at home against Seattle. Carlos Gomez began his minor league rehab assignment Saturday and could rejoin the team next weekend. Hanser Alberto has experienced pain in his throwing arm and has been recalled from his minor league rehab assignment.

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