The Houston Astros have been the best baseball team in Texas this season. No one would argue that as the final three-game set in the Lone Star Series ends tonight at Globe Life Park.
The Texas Rangers, who are 7-9 against their southern neighbors this season, could still take the Silver Boot with a sweep this week, despite the Astros’ fast start that virtually clinched the division in April.
The Rangers have been the superior team over the previous five seasons, winning 60 of 92 games.
But who would have the edge if you thumbed through their histories and hand-picked the all-time best lineups, then pitted them against one another?
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This is subjective, of course, both in determining each club’s greatest player at each position and also deciding which of the players would have the edge.
Nolan Ryan, who had historic careers with both clubs — first with the Astros (1980-88) and then the Rangers (1989-93) — cancels himself out. You could argue that he was each franchise’s best player, and that of the Angels, too, where he blossomed into a star.
Rather than have the Hall of Famer pitch against himself, we’ll set him aside and let him enjoy the game.
We’ve included the top right- and left-handed pitchers, top reliever and a designated hitter (even though the Astros were in the National League until 2013) to compare the all-time teams. Some players were moved from their “normal” position with hopes of representing the best of both clubs.
Ready, set, imagine!
Note: Rangers players listed first, edge goes to player listed in bold.
FERGIE JENKINS VS. ROY OSWALT
Jenkins is deservedly in the Hall of Fame and his 93 wins with the Rangers (out of his 284 total) are fourth all-time on the team. No one anytime soon is going to come close to that and his 21.9 WAR (wins above replacement, a sabermetrics way of showing a player’s value at a certain position) with the Rangers only trails Charlie Hough and Kenny Rogers. Although Jenkins, who was 31 in his first stint with Texas and 35 in his second, threw more than twice the career innings of Oswalt (in an era when starters actually completed games), Oswalt was slightly more dominant in his stretch with the Astros than Jenkins was with the Rangers. Oswalt was 143-82 with a 3.24 ERA over 10 seasons with Houston and was one win shy of tying Joe Niekro for most Astros’ all-time wins. His 45.6 WAR during that stretch trumps all others for both clubs.
KENNY ROGERS VS. DALLAS KEUCHEL
Rogers’ 133 wins and 31.6 WAR for the Rangers are second only to Hough. Of course, he threw that perfect game in 1994. His 4.16 career ERA with Texas is a bit high, but he ate up a ton of innings during 12 seasons, throwing over 200 frames five times. It’s early, but Keuchel is poised to become Houston’s all-time lefty starter. He’s already 63-52 with a 3.66 ERA in six seasons. A couple more decent seasons and he’ll enter Houston’s top 10 in wins.
JOHN WETTELAND VS. BILLY WAGNER
Both teams have three pitchers with more than 100 saves in their history. Wetteland and Wagner both dominated as closers at the same time and are each club’s all-time saves leader — Wetteland with 150 for Texas and Wagner with 225 for Houston. Wagner, who is sixth all-time with 422 career saves, has a shot to earn a Hall of Fame nod. His career 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings and .187 opponent batting average are the best in history for a pitcher with at least 900 innings.
RAFAEL PALMEIRO VS. JEFF BAGWELL
Statistically, at least for their careers, this is perhaps the toughest call to make. Palmeiro is among the game’s all-time leaders in hits (3,020), doubles (585) and home runs (569). He’s also among the top 20 in RBIs (1,835). Without a PED stain, Palmeiro was a certain Hall of Famer. Bagwell, who entered the Hall in August, played five fewer seasons due to an arthritic right shoulder but still tallied Hall-worthy numbers (.297 average, 2,314 hits, 449 homers). His 79.6 WAR is sixth all-time among first baseman, and since the 1940s only Albert Pujols has a higher score. Bagwell was the far better base runner and an underrated fielder.
MICHAEL YOUNG VS. CRAIG BIGGIO
If first base was the toughest statistical call, second base is the toughest emotional call. Few players meant more to the Rangers than Young. Trouble is, the same can be said for Biggio with the Astros. Both were among the best in the game during their era. Young’s position hopping (which he did nobly for the team) didn’t do him any favors. And although he played fewer games at second base (433) than shortstop (776) or third base (457), he deserves to be on this team as Texas’ all-time leader in hits (2,230), doubles (415), triples (55), runs (1,085) and is third among Rangers’ offensive WAR leaders at 38.1. Young deserves consideration to join Biggio in the Hall of Fame. Biggio is a member of the 3,000-hit club and is fifth all-time with 668 doubles and 15th all-time with 1,844 runs scored. Like Young, Biggio moved around the field for the good of the team, going from catcher to second to center field.
ADRIAN BELTRE VS. KEN CAMINITI
No contest. Beltre continues to climb in the all-time leaders list for nearly every offensive category. His defense, even at 38, hasn’t declined. He joined the 3,000-hit club this season, has over 600 doubles and is within striking distance of the 500-homer club at 462. The Astros had several good third basemen, including Doug Rader and Enos Cabell, but Ken Caminiti was their most dynamic at the hot corner. He could make the dazzling defensive play and had a .732 OPS with the Astros. His best years, including the 1996 NL MVP, were with the Padres and even still he doesn’t measure up to Beltre, because very few do.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ VS. CARLOS CORREA
For whatever feelings you have about A-Rod, there’s no denying his sparkling numbers and MVP in his three-year stint with the Rangers. His PED tarnish aside, he’s without question one of the greatest baseball players in history. Until Carlos Correa came around, the Astros had never had a shortstop as potentially dangerous. In fact, you could combine the numbers of Dickie Thon, Craig Reynolds, Roger Metzger and a few others and they still wouldn’t touch A-Rod’s production in his time with Texas.
PUDGE RODRIGUEZ VS. ALAN ASHBY
This was the easiest call. Rodriguez is arguably the greatest catcher in history. Ashby was a well-respected game manager, but Rodriguez’s Hall of Fame induction in July underscored how rare he was. Heck, the Rangers’ Jim Sundberg would be the second-best catcher among the two clubs.
RUSTY GREER VS. LANCE BERKMAN
OK, Rangers fans, forget for a second that Berkman helped beat Texas in the 2011 World Series, or that he had little left in the tank when he joined the Rangers for 73 games before retiring after the 2013 season. And try to set aside how understandably beloved Greer is in Arlington. Greer’s career was cut short at nine seasons because of injuries, but during his healthy full seasons he was one of the best outfielders in the majors. He finished with a career .305 batting average, three 100 RBI seasons and an .865 OPS. Berkman played more first base than left, but with Bagwell on his team he’d be forced to the outfield. Berkman should earn Hall of Fame consideration when he’s eligible for the first time in January, although it’s clear he’ll have to wait a few years. He’s a career .293 hitter with 366 homers, 422 doubles and 1,234 RBIs.
AL OLIVER VS. CESAR CEDENO
Oliver wasn’t in Texas long, just four seasons (1978-81), but when he was he was one of the best outfielders in the game. He hit .319 with 337 RBIs and 283 runs with the Rangers and his 668 hits as Texas’ center fielder is second only to Josh Hamilton (see below). Cedeno and Oliver were in the league at the same time (basically, 1969 to 1986, give or take a year or two). For their careers, they’re remarkably similar players. But Cedeno was integral to the Astros’ rise in the National League in the late ‘70s. He led their 1980 pennant-winning club with a .309 average, 48 stolen bases and an .854 OPS.
JUAN GONZALEZ VS. TERRY PUHL
Gonzalez wins this by a landslide. The two-time MVP was a feared power hitter during his 13 years with the Rangers. He finished with 434 homers (372 with Texas) and 1,404 RBIs in his career. The Astros’ top three right fielders combined for fewer RBIs and homers. Their top four right fielders combined, including Hunter Pence, had 326 homers. Puhl is the Astros’ leader in games played in right (1,516) and he was good a hitter (.281) and base stealer (217), but he’s no match for Igor.
JOSH HAMILTON VS. JOSE CRUZ
For most of five seasons in his prime, Hamilton was the best player on the planet. He was a dynamic center fielder and the fiercest left-handed slugger in the league. Perhaps if he was used as a DH more, Hamilton’s legs would have lasted longer. We’ll never know. Jose Cruz was a beloved left fielder in Houston who hit .300 six times (and .299 in another) with the Astros. He also had some pop, with eight seasons of 10 or more homers when home runs were harder to come by, between 1977-87.