The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers meet 10 more times in 2014, but the mantle for the state’s best team, along with the Silver Boot, may have been passed Wednesday night.
The Astros’ 8-4 win in front of an announced crowd of 31,161 at Globe Life Park gave Houston its first sweep over the Rangers since June 2003 and pulled the Astros ahead of the Rangers in the American League West standings.
Texas is now in last place (by percentage points), a team-low for this late in a season for the first time since finishing in last place in 2007. And, at the moment, Texas has the lowest winning percentage in baseball.
During these dire days for the Rangers, not even ace Yu Darvish has been spared from the misery.
The All-Star right-hander, who has been one of the club’s bright spots during an otherwise miserable season, was roughed up for the second consecutive start. Darvish (8-5) has allowed 10 runs, including six in six innings Wednesday, in his last two starts, both losses. He has only one quality start (June 28) in his last five since earning his first career complete-game shutout on June 11.
Entering Wednesday’s series finale against the Astros, Darvish had held opponents scoreless the last 20 innings at Globe Life Park. Houston quickly took care of that and erased a 1-0 Rangers lead with two runs in the second inning after a double, triple and wild pitch with two outs.
Texas responded with three runs in the bottom of the second, including a two-run double from Daniel Robertson.
But the Astros’ offense, as it did the entire series, kept pounding away, scoring single runs in the third and fifth innings before burning the Rangers’ taxed bullpen for two runs apiece in the sixth and seventh innings.
“Usually when we put runs on the board for Yu, he doesn’t turn around give them right back,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “The team is in a skid, but I’m telling you they’re playing. We just don’t have a sustainable offense. We’re not pitching very well, and in the American League, you’ve got to pitch.”
Shin-Soo Choo couldn’t reach Carlos Corporan’s double down the left-field line that scored two runs in the sixth against Darvish. The six earned runs allowed by Darvish are a season high. His career high for earned runs allowed is seven.
“Their approach hasn’t changed much, but individually, they’re playing good baseball and in a lot of key situations they’re hitting the ball,” Darvish said of the Astros. “My command wasn’t bad; I just didn’t execute. They had good chances and cashed in.”
George Springer’s two-run homer in the seventh stretched the Astros’ lead to 8-4. It was Springer’s 19th on the year and second in the series. Houston batted .362, collected seven homers and scored 28 runs on 42 hits in the series.
Houston’s Robbie Grossman, who entered the game mired in an 0-for-28 slump in the big leagues and who was 0 for 8 with five strikeouts in his career against Darvish, was 4 for 5 with two RBIs. His solo homer to right tied the game at 4-4. He joined the Astros on Tuesday when Alex Presley was put on the disabled list.
The reality that the Rangers have hit bottom perhaps has started to sink in for some players.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all in the beginning of the season,” outfielder Alex Rios said. “We were a great team coming in, but it’s been a crazy season and we will all remember this in a bad way. [The record] is the last thing to think about. No matter who’s ahead or behind you, we don’t think about it. We just go out and play the game and try to enjoy it.”
Darvish, who likely will pitch in next week’s All-Star Game, said he hasn’t lost faith in his teammates.
“It is what it is,” he said when asked for his thoughts about his and his team’s struggles. “Having said that, I’m really proud of this team. A lot of players are playing positions they’re not familiar with … [Adam] Rosales, for example, was playing first base. I know what the fans are expecting, but it’s a grind and I’m very motivated by how this team is playing right now. We’re struggling, but we’re fighting.”
That may be all fans can hope for the remainder of the 2014 season.