Let’s be honest: It’s physically impossible to get a baseball hard-on when the Astros are in town. (Sorry, ladies; though I imagine there’s some term of arousal you could replace “hard-on” with.)
Even the most rational Rangers fans view a mere series victory against Houston as a failure, even if our minds tell us winning 2 out of 3 is never a bad thing. Against the worst team in baseball, sweeps are not only the expectation, but the standard.
The Rangers have squared off against the Astros 7 times in the last 12 days, and in those games Texas has gone a perfect 7-0, outscoring its intrastate rival 45-22 in that span. With only one series remaining on the 2013 docket between the two clubs, Texas has amassed a sweltering 15-2 mark against Houston.
On Wednesday evening, Derek Holland looked to be every bit of the ace he has shown himself as in 2013, navigating through the first 6.0 innings have allowed only one run (a Jason Castro solo homer in the 2nd) on two hits, striking out 5 and walking none.
Then, after a line drive that ricocheted off Holland’s glove/general forearm area to lead off the 6th, the wheels quickly came off; he walked the next two hitters to load the bases, and with a 3-1 lead — with Holland having thrown only 92 pitches — Ron Washington summoned Joakim Soria from the bullpen to extinguish the fire.
Soria coaxed a double-play ball off the bat of rookie Max Stassi (who later would exit the game after taking a blazing Tanner Scheppers two-seam fastball off the shoulder/head) before inevitably striking out the hapless Brett Wallace to end the frame.
At that point the Rangers led 3-2, adding their 4th run on an Elvis Andrus suicide squeeze in the bottom of the frame.
In the 8th, Tanner Scheppers did everything he could to ensure Derek Holland wouldn’t get his name in the win column, because I imagine that sort of thing matters a great deal to major league starting pitchers. With nobody on and two out, Tanner’s sequence read like this:
2. Wild pitch
4. Wild pitch
5. BABIP single
The game was then tied at 4-apiece when Wash lifted Scheppers in favor of Jason Frasor, who inexplicably has transmogrified from arguably the last guy you would want to see pitching in a high-leverage situation into one of the Rangers more trustworthy relief arms.
In 2013, Tanner Scheppers may be the most fortunate relief pitcher in the major leagues, and it might surprise you just how overrated he is in reality, even in spite of his crazy-good two-seam fastball that impresses the shit out of everyone. His success has been predicated entirely from the low average he’s induced from balls in play (.234), as his strikeout rate (6.55/9) and walk rate (3.36/9) both leave much to be desired out of the perceived 2nd-best arm in the bullpen.
Jason Frasor, on the other hand, receives much less hype, even though he’s been worth double (+0.6 fWAR) in comparison to Scheppers (+0.3 fWAR) in 17.1 fewer innings.
(And yeah, Tanner’s 2.05 ERA is much better than Frasor’s 2.75 ERA, but looking forward there’s no statistical evidence to suggest he is any better as a relief pitcher.)
Even with the Astros showing a ton of resolve, Elvis Andrus’ walk-off sac fly in the 9th still secured another sweep of Houston, propelling the Rangers to 21 games over .500 for the first time in 2013, and adding on another game to their division lead over the Athletics. It’s now up to 2.5 games (2 in the loss column), which is the largest deficit Oakland has faced since June 1st.
With September 2nd marked on everyone’s calendar — the next time Oakland and Texas face off — the Rangers will now embark on a quick week-long road trip through Seattle and Chicago before coming home for an even quicker 3-game home-stand against the Twins. That’s 9 games against 3 teams the Rangers will be favored against, while, in the meantime, the A’s face off against Baltimore, Detroit and Tampa Bay in succession.
These are good times to be a Rangers fan, so let’s keep it up.
And by keep it up I mean let’s continue to find things to bitch about while our team is in 1st place.