BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Inexplicably, the Texas Rangers bounced back from being swept in four games by Oakland at home by sweeping a three game series with the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park. Rougned Odor continued to stake his claim to the Rangers’ Player of the Month Award for July by going 6-9 with four runs scored, and two RBIs on two home runs, one an inside the parker. All three Ranger starting pitchers earned a win.
Texas is 45-62 on the season, still 22 games out of first place. They now trail the Angels by nine games for getting out of the American League West basement. The Astros fall to 67-40.
The highlight of the weekend came Saturday night. Ariel Jurado was summoned from AA Frisco to start in place of Cole Hamels after Hamels was traded to the Cubs. Unquestionably, if the Rangers are going to return to being a contending team, they need to develop starting pitching, and Jurado is one of the top pitching prospects in the minor league system.
Jurado was terrific. He completed six innings, allowing a run on two hits. He walked one batter and struck out two.
Texas led 2-1 when Jurado was replaced by Jose Leclerc. Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Odor had homered for the two Ranger runs off Justin Verlander. When Velander left the game, the Rangers padded the lead with a run in the seventh inning and put the game away with four runs in the ninth inning.
Austin Bibens-Dirkx gave up two runs in the ninth inning to make the final score 7-3. Jurado is 1-1 with the win, as he lost earlier this year in his only other Major League start in Chicago.
Yovani Gallardo started the series with a fine pitching performance. Gallardo was knocked out in the sixth inning as his pitch count approached 100, but he allowed just two hits and no runs. He now has thrown 11-1/3rd consecutive shutout innings.
Meanwhile, the Rangers pushed across a second inning run on the safety squeeze play. Robinson Chirinos hit a two run home run in the fifth inning to push the lead to 3-0. Shin-Soo Choo tripled home a run in the sixth inning, and then scored on a sacrifice fly extending the lead to 5-0.
Houston got on the scoreboard in the seventh inning, but the Rangers matched their run in the eighth. The Lawmen then exploded in the ninth inning for five runs to make it a rout. Jurickson Profar homered leading off the inning. The Rangers then put together an old fashion rally to score four more runs on five singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly.
The final score was 11-2. Gallardo is 5-1 with the win. The Rangers have amazingly scored 59 runs (8.4 runs per game) in the seven games Gallardo has started since joining the Rangers’ rotation.
Sunday’s game was much closer. Houston’s Tyler White homered in the second inning to take the Astros’ first lead of the series at 1-0. It proved to be the only lead they would have, and it lasted just two full innings, before the Rangers tied it in the fifth when Delino DeShields drove the run home with a ground rule double.
The Rangers took the lead with three sixth inning runs. Odor and Profar opened the inning with doubles to plate the first run. Profar moved to third base on a wild pitch and scored on a fielding error. Ronald Guzman then drove home the third run of the inning with a double.
The Astros answered with a run in their half of the sixth inning cutting the lead to 4-2. That was all the damage the Spacemen could do against Ranger starter Mike Minor. He finished six innings, giving up the two runs on four hits. He struck out eight and walked one.
Alex Claudio and Jose Leclerc shut down Houston in the seventh and eighth innings. Closer Keone Kela gave up a hit and walked two in the ninth inning to score another run. That pushed the score to 4-3, but Houston’s come back ended when George Springer fouled out to the catcher to end the game.
Kela earned his 24th save in 25 opportunities. Minor is 7-6 with the win.
Before the weekend, the Astros had not been swept in a series this season and had not lost more than three games in a row. The Rangers’ sweep ended both of those streaks, as Houston had lost the game before the series began. The Astros did play this series without two of their most important players – shortstop Carlos Correa and second baseman Jose Altuve.
Both teams now go on the road. The Astros are off to Seattle for three games to start an eight game road trip. It’s an important series for Houston as second place Seattle has crept to within four games in the standings and three in the loss column of the Astros.
The Rangers finish this five game road trip with Monday and Tuesday games in Arizona. The announced starting pitchers for the Rangers are Martin Perez and Bartolo Colon. The Rangers last faced the Diamondbacks in 2015. Texas has a 4-4 record in inter-league play this year.
The non-waiver trade deadline is less than 48 hours away (3:00 PM Central on Tuesday). The Rangers most likely to be traded before the deadline are relievers Keone Kela and Jake Diekman as well as third baseman Adrian Beltre. Jose Leclerc has also been rumored to be the subject of trade talks.
* The Rangers tied two other teams Sunday for the most strikeouts in a nine inning game win. Texas batters struck out 19 times Sunday afternoon. Every position player that played – 10 in all – struck out at least once with Shin-Soo Choo leading the way with four and Joey Gallo and Willie Calhoun following close behind with three.
* Seven Ranger players aged 25 or less appeared in Sunday’s game.
* The season series between Houston and Texas finished with Houston winning 12 games and Texas seven.
* Rougned Odor was 5-5 Saturday setting his career high in hits in a game. It was the first five hit game for a Ranger since 2013.
* Rollie Lacy, the pitching prospect the Rangers received from the Cubs in the Cole Hamels deal made his first start in the Rangers’ system Sunday. He completed five shutout innings for the High-A Down East Wood Ducks (Kinston, North Carolina) allowing just two hits, while striking out seven and walking three.