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Previewing a Texas-Sized ALCS Between Rangers and Astros

Previewing a Texas-Sized ALCS Between Rangers and Astros

On Tuesday, the Rangers did something they had not done since 2011: reach the ALCS. Now, Texas can return to the World Series and claim their first title in franchise history. The one obstacle they must overcome, however, is the Houston Astros. It’s no secret that since the Astros began their mini-dynasty, Houston has had significant success against the Texas Rangers. Since 2017, the Rangers are 40-78 against the Astros, and in a season (2023) where Texas won a series at Minute Maid Park in April, the Rangers still managed to lose 9 of 13 to Houston. The bottom line is that the rivalry tilts heavily on the Astros’ side.

On the offensive side, the Rangers are building on heavy momentum heading into the ALCS. They are 5-0 in postseason play, scored 32 runs (most among all postseason teams), hit .296 with runners in scoring position (highest among teams remaining), and only trailed for one half-inning (at the end of the first inning of Game 2 against the Orioles). The Rangers used three starters and a piggyback for the pitching portion, dominating the opposing hitters. If you take what all four (Jordan Montgomery, Nathan Eovaldi, Dane Dunning, and Andrew Heaney) did this postseason, they allowed nine runs in 30.1 innings with 24 strikeouts and only three walks. It’s a monster of a starting staff.

The best two ways to deviate from a bullpen, who in the regular season struggled, don’t use them or give them a hefty lead. Both of those occurrences popped up during this postseason. That said, I don’t want to remove José Leclerc from the equation and ignore what excellence he is doing out of the bullpen. Leclerc appeared in all five postseason games, allowing one run (a home run in Game 2), four hits, six strikeouts, and, most importantly, one walk. He’s also converted the only save chance the Rangers have this postseason. Josh Sborz and Cody Bradford have pulled their weight in the bullpen during their first postseason experience.

Let’s look ahead to the next eight days (or fewer). The Rangers will send Jordan Montgomery to the hill while the Astros counter with Justin Verlander on Sunday in Game 1. Unfortunately for Texas, Verlander’s career numbers have a 2.60 ERA in 35 starts and 218 innings. It’s the lowest ERA vs an American League opponent in Verlander’s career and the seventh lowest in MLB. Since 2018, Justin has a 2.59 ERA against the Rangers in 73 innings. He pitched once against the Rangers in early September this year at Globe Life Field (7 innings, one run, and six strikeouts). Meanwhile, Jordan Montgomery threw a 6.2 inning, one run, six strikeout performance in late June against the Astros in St. Louis as a member of the Cardinals.

Even looking further past game 1, the Rangers feel strong about their rotation. Max Scherzer and Jon Gray will likely return, each inserted into the rotation, with Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning going to the bullpen. I believe Bruce Bochy will utilize Heaney more of a one-inning reliever with the arsenal and velocity of pitches he has and could use Dane Dunning for a bases-loaded situation in a dire groundball scenario (although it’s difficult to calculate those ahead of time).

Keys to the Series:

1. Do Not Let Yordan Álvarez Beat You

It’s easier said than done, right? It wouldn’t shock me that by Game 2, Álvarez receives the Corey Seager treatment that the Baltimore Orioles gave Corey. It’s a deep lineup for Houston with many guys that can beat you, but letting Yordan Álvarez dictate the game is the simplest way for the Rangers to watch the World Series at home. In 26 at-bats this season, Álvarez is hitting .308 with three home runs and 8 RBI with an OPS of 1.201 against Texas pitching.

2. The Crowd Won’t Always be by Your Side

Rangers fans came through for Game 3 against the Orioles, but it won’t be dominant in Games 3-5. I’ll say the crowd at Globe Life Field will be about 60/40 (60% Rangers, 40% Astros), with Minute Maid Park being about 65/35 (65% Astros, 35% Rangers). That’s not a knock on the fan bases; it’s that traveling is easily accessible. The one benefit for Texas is that the home games are during the week while the Astros home games are on the weekend, but that could be a stretch on my part.

3. Don’t Change Your Hitting Approach

Bruce Bochy mentioned that in the Mariners series, the Rangers tried too hard to hit home runs and got away from what worked during the regular season. They stuck to their patient approach vs. the Rays and Orioles, which showed. However, when facing a juggernaut, you tend to try to do too much, especially if things go south early. If the Rangers can stick to their approach at the plate and not chase a lot, they may be able to stretch out the Astros starters or create chaos for the Houston bullpen.

Final Result: It will be a gritty series, and tension may boil over, like what happened the last time the Rangers were in Houston. But all in all, we’re in for a treat of a week between the Astros and Rangers, which will give America a sense of what a Texas-sized rivalry is like. That said, I may have to go with history on this one. The Astros will win in 6 games.

Credentialed Media Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers for Dallas Sports Fanatic | 2014 University of North Texas graduate with a Bachelor's in Radio, Television, and Film. I talk about things. Find me on the tweeter @aplinckTX

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