The first Texas Rangers-Houston Astros series of 2016 isn’t in the books, but the Rangers have won it.
The worst-case scenario is they lose Thursday against reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and win only two of the three games. A sweep would give the Rangers 10 consecutive victories over the Astros at Globe Life Park.
The Rangers’ won with defense early and pitching the rest of the way, with the three bullpen stalwarts — Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman and Shawn Tolleson — finishing up after Cole Hamels managed to allow only one run in 6 2/3 innings.
The Rangers are 9-6 and lead the American League West by a game over Oakland. The Astros are 5-10, in last place, and four games out. That’s not entirely insignificant, though the Rangers showed last year that an awful April can be overcome.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from Wednesday’s 2-1 victory.
They’re tough to get out. They’ve got tons of energy, especially on the bases. That play with Nomar, catching that and throwing it in and letting them make the mistake. I think that was the key, to try to put the pressure on them.
Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels
1. Hamels took a shutout into the sixth inning, and a good deal of credit goes to the Astros.
Hamels gifted them two hit batsmen to start the game, only to see the inning end on a strike ‘em out-throw ‘em out double play when Bryan Holaday threw to second to catch George Springer as the trailing runner.
The Astros opened the second with three straight singles to load the bases, but they gave away a golden opportunity. The next batter, Marwin Gonzalez, popped to shallow right field, where Nomar Mazara caught the ball and fired home.
As Colby Rasmus bluffed tagging up to go home, he fooled teammate Carlos Gomez at first base. Gomez tagged and took off for second, so Evan Gattis tagged and went to third and Rasmus broke for home only to be tagged out for a 9-2-4-2 double play.
Jason Castro bounced to third to end the threat.
Jose Altuve opened the third with a single toward the left-field corner and decided to try for second. Ian Desmond, though, fired back to the infield, and Rougned Odor made a nice tag to catch Altuve.
14 Consecutive wins for the Rangers in games started by Cole Hamels, who has won 10 straight decisions
Three innings. Three outs on the bases.
Hamels nearly finished seven innings but left after hitting Altuve on an 0-2 pitch with the tying run at third base.
Regardless of how much help the Astros gave him, Hamels did some ace things to get out of the trouble and then to take control of the game in the middle innings.
“I thought he did a great job,” Holaday said. “He competed. We got outs when we needed them. His command wasn’t where it normally is and the first few innings he was really amped up. But he battled.”
And here’s some more ace stuff: The Rangers have won 14 consecutive games started by Hamels, and he has won 10 straight decisions. He is 7-0 all time in Arlington.
That Hamels trade just might work out for the Rangers.
2. On the huge second-inning double play, manager Jeff Banister credited Holaday and Odor for knowing precisely what to do with each silly step by an Astros base runner.
“Holaday obviously can’t leave the plate,” Banister said. “He didn’t get caught up with running anybody. He held his ground and made a good throw. Odor was heads up. He stayed under control. You get in a situation there where you start jail-breaking after a runner, then you have to stop and redirect yourself.”
The best chance at an extra out was to throw to first base behind Gomez. Holaday threw to Odor, who was covering first, and Odor started chasing Gomez to second base but with an eye on Rasmus at third base.
“I saw Evan Gattis go to third base, so I just turned and threw home,” Odor said.
Once Rasmus decided to take off, which he felt was a necessity as Gattis went to third even though he had the right to the base, Odor threw back home to Holaday, who tracked down and tagged Rasmus.
“More than anything else, our guys showed the presence of mind to stay in control, calm,” Banister said.
3. The Rangers’ offense entered Wednesday batting .313 with runners in scoring position and with a league-leading seven sacrifice flies. Either a hit or a sac fly would have done the trick in the eighth inning, when the Rangers came away empty with a bases-loaded, no-outs situation.
Desmond and Odor hit the ball in the air, just not deep enough. Elvis Andrus, who was 6 for 12 this season with runners in scoring, struck out to end the inning.
The Rangers won, so that’s a nit-pick. It has also been a rare occurrence this season for them to not execute in those situations. But it happened. It will happen again this season. Probably more than once.
But the Rangers are content with their approach so far. And they have this reason for it: They entered Wednesday as the league leader in runs (68).
4. A couple of items from Tuesday were still newsworthy Wednesday.
The Adrian Beltre-Elvis Andrus thing has been overblown.
Was Beltre peeved at Andrus? Probably a bit. Did Beltre think it was funny? Yes. He admitted it, in fact. Is Andrus receiving way too much negativity from Beltre’s dugout antics? Absolutely.
It’s not like Andrus was thrown out at second because he was watching what he thought was a home run. As soon as it came up short and hit off the wall, it was going to be a double, and Andrus easily got to second base.
Also overblown was the Derek Holland claim that the Astros had picked up on what pitches he was throwing.
Holland never said that the Astros were stealing signs, which manager A.J. Hinch felt compelled to tell Holland on Wednesday that his team wouldn’t do. Sure.
Holland thought the Astros had picked up on something, possibly from him tipping his pitches, and were whistling to relay it to the batter. That’s it. At no point was he accusing the Astros of dirty tricks.
It wasn’t perceived that way, probably because Holland isn’t very well received by about half the Rangers Nation and even some within the organization.