Since the All-Star break, the Texas Rangers have gradually gained ground the Houston Astros, who have led the AL west for most of the season. In that time, Texas is 37-21 while Houston has posted a record of 28– 27.
Houston is a team loaded with young talent. Many baseball experts felt that the Astros were at least a year away from being a playoff team but for the first five months of the 2015 season the young club has been one of the best teams in the American League.
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While youth is a great asset, with it also comes inexperience. As the days and the stakes have grown hotter in late summer, the young flowers in the Bayou City have wilted while the grizzled veterans on the Rangers’ roster have started to perform at their best.
Looking at the discrepancy in the years of service between the two teams may explain why the Astros have faded under pressure and the Rangers have come from 8 games back in the AL West at the beginning of August to claiming a 2.5 game lead at the time of this article.
The eight position players in the Rangers’ lineup for Thursday’s series finale against Houston combine for 57 years of MLB experience. Meanwhile, the position players for the Astros has totaled only 38 years of experience.
The Texas pitchers also have a huge advantage in professional experience. The five pitchers in Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister’s rotation have 40 years of experience in the big leagues while the Houston rotation combines for only 25.
Now that the games between these two clubs have taken on the intensity of playoff games, the difference in experience in that type of environment is also vast.
Consider the fact that the Texas Ranger’s usual starting lineup has played a collective 146 career playoff games (99 if Napoli is not in the lineup) while the Astros’ lineup has participated in a mere 25 post-season games and it is easy to see how the pressure of a September pennant race might weigh heavier on the younger Astros.
Furthermore, the Rangers’ rotation has been forged by appearing in a total of 39 playoff games (13 a piece by Cole Hamels, who also has a World Series MVP trophy, and Derek Holland). Meanwhile, Scott Kazmir is the only member of the Houston rotation to have experienced October baseball by appearing in 8 games with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Every team must learn how to win meaningful games in September and October. For most of the season, Houston has played with confidence in low-pressure games but when the pennant race grew tight so did the Astros’ young players.
Meanwhile, the veteran Texas Rangers have managed to keep an even keel after experiencing the loss of its No. 1 & 2 pitchers for the entire season and 4 months respectively, an awful April that saw it second to last in the American League standings, and a prolonged collective slump from its highest paid players.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, including a three-game series in Houston, the veteran Rangers must rely on its past pennant chase and playoff experiences to put the Astros away. Because if postseason baseball has taught this franchise anything, it has taught them that nothing is guaranteed and no one is out of it until the final out has been recorded.