BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers split and won their two series this week to put together their first winning week of more than one series since before the All-Star break. They split a pair in New York against the Mets, and then came home to win two of three from the Astros. When the week ended, the Rangers had cut the deficit in the West to 15.5 games, and were 3.5 games behind for the second Wild Card playoff berth.
The Rangers were most fortunate to catch Houston this week. The Astros still have the best record in the American League, but they are reeling. They have seen their lead in the A. L. West dwindle from 18 to 12 games just since July 28. They limped into Arlington having been swept in a three game set by the White Sox, the same White Sox that have the worst record in the American League. The Astros have had a high powered offense this season, and that has slowed only slightly during the downturn.
Their big problems are on the mound. Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner and Collin McHugh were shelled for 15 earned runs in their two starts in Chicago earlier in the week. There is also dissatisfaction in the Astros’ clubhouse that management did virtually nothing to shore up the team for the playoffs, and Keuchel, in particular, has been very vocal in his criticism.
The Rangers scored 14 runs in the first two games of the series to extend the Astros’ losing streak to five games, before Keuchel came up with a very good start Sunday to put a stop to it. He allowed only a solo home run to Adrian Beltre to beat Texas 2-1 in the series finale.
For Texas, Martin Perez has struggled of late, but he was extremely impressive in New York. He pitched eight innings of three hit ball, giving up just one run. The Rangers backed him with five runs from the offense, such that he earned his sixth win against 10 losses.
On Friday, Cole Hamels was impressive, turning in seven shutout innings to improve to 7-1 for the season. Texas held a 6-0 lead after seven innings, but the game became a nail biter when the Astros racked up four runs in the eighth. Alex Claudio got the third out in the eighth to snuff out the threat, and he kept Houston off the scoreboard in the ninth on a night when he didn’t have his good stuff. The Astros sent strong MVP candidate Jose Altuve to the plate as the go ahead run with two outs in the ninth. Claudio ended the game with a strikeout on a 3-2 count. Friday’s game was one of the few this season in which the Rangers won without hitting a home run.
Saturday was a special day in Ranger history. The team honored Ivan Rodriguez for his enshrinement into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Speakers included the President of the Hall of Fame and the Mayor of Arlington, as well as Ranger broadcasters Eric Nadel and Tom Grieve. Most of the other former Ranger players to wear uniform number 7 were in attendance and recognized. Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins and Roberto Alomar unveiled the bust that will be placed in the Hall in Cooperstown. Noted local artist Vee Wells unveiled a new painting of Rodriguez to recognize the occasion.
Number 7 is now the fourth Ranger retired number. MLB retired number 42 for every team in the late 90′s to honor Jackie Robinson. Late Ranger manager Johnny Oates, who led the Rangers into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, wore number 26. It’s retired, as is number 34 in honor of Nolan Ryan.
Saturday’s game was basically an after thought to the moving ceremony. The game didn’t start until around 7:30 because of the length of the ceremony and was stopped for a brief rain delay in the bottom of the first inning. The rain held off after play resumed, and the Rangers racked up an 8-3 win. Tyson Ross came off the disabled list to make the start Saturday, and he was encouraging. He gave up three runs on four hits over 5-2/3rds innings.
If Texas is to make a move for a playoff berth, the time is now. Detroit is in town for three games to start the week. The White Sox follow for four next weekend. Former Ranger Derek Holland is scheduled to pitch next Saturday for the White Sox. It’s as soft of a schedule as there will be for Texas this year.
* The Astros now lead eight games to five in the chase for the Silver Boot Trophy as the champion of Texas. The Rangers are in Houston on August 29, 30 and 31 and the Astros return to Arlington on September 25, 26 and 27.
* Ranger manager Jeff Banister was ejected from Sunday’s game, his fifth ejection of the year. The White Sox’ Rick Renteria leads the Majors with six ejections.