Gil LeBreton

Rangers are bad at math, but good at beating Astros

What a beating. What a schooling.

What a jaw-dropping night for the first-place Texas Rangers.

The season series’ Silver Boot is already theirs. But Wednesday night at the ballpark, the Rangers had the big boot pressed firmly against the Houston Astros’ young throats.

They rocked Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel for six runs in the first inning and didn’t stop there, stroking five home runs in a 14-3 victory.

Manager Jeff Banister will send veteran Colby Lewis to the mound Thursday to try to complete a four-game sweep.

Houston, you have a problem.

The Rangers, who once trailed the Astros by 9  1/2 games in the AL West standings, aren’t looking back.

On the contrary. About three hours before Wednesday night’s game, Banister was sitting in his clubhouse office, trying to explain why the Rangers defy the algorithms.

In the sabermetrics world, a top-heavy run differential — runs scored versus runs against — is said to be the statistical equivalent of washboard abs, a baseball six-pack.

Alas, with 144 games in the books, Banister’s team began the night having been outscored by opponents by a season total of 24 runs.

As Dave Cameron of the online site Fangraphs described them on 1310/The Ticket on Wednesday, “The Rangers are an average team that has over-performed for six months.”

The Astros, Cameron predicted, will soon overtake the Rangers and regain the division lead.

Right. And unicorns will come flying from Nolan Ryan’s butt.

A more plausible explanation is that the Rangers are just lousy at math.

So why has his team surged past the Astros and taken hold of first place, Banister was asked?

“We’ve gotten good at figuring out how to win ball games,” the manager answered.

There’s no equation for that simple truth. There was scant logic, as well, when even veteran Rangers players were underperforming earlier in the season.

If you’re going to measure contenders by their season run differentials, Banister suggested, toss out things like the 21-5 loss to the Yankees or the three games in July when the Rangers were outscored by a combined 32 runs.

“Kick those games out and see where we’re at,” Banister said.

Banister, of course, is managing a lot different team than he was earlier in the season. There are new faces, such as Cole Hamels and two new relievers. New old faces, such as Mike Napoli. And faces that were frowning in April but broadly smiling in September, such as Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus.

“The club has changed,” Banister said. “There are guys who are performing differently.”

Against Keuchel, the American League leader in earned-run average and wins, the Rangers teed off Wednesday for six hits and two home runs in the first inning.

“You saw some big hitters on a mission,” Banister said. “I think it goes back to having Napoli in the lineup against a left-hander and how it stretches our lineup out.”

The best example of the night’s pounding, however, was Prince Fielder, who had three hits, two homers and five RBIs.

“We talked about the big man in the middle and how he was close,” Banister said. “He wasn’t close tonight. He was a man on a mission. When he gets going, he’s as good as there is in the power game.”

The manager said his team “got punched in the mouth in April and tasted their own blood.”

Now they’re the ones bloodying people.

On Thursday, the Rangers go for the four-game sweep.

Houston, you have a problem.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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