Silver Boot Preview
Tonight the first game of one of the most important series of the year for the Rangers. The division rival Astros are in town for four games and this series is going to be a wet and wild thrill ride from start to finish. Texas begins the series 1.5 games back in the chase for the AL West but would have been only a half game back were it not for an incredibly improbable Astros rally last night. The Rangers currently hold the 8-4 advantage in the Silver Boot series and could wrap up the season series win with a sweep this week.
Since September started, the Astros are 4-7 while the Rangers are 7-5. A big factor in the favor of the Texas Rangers postseason chase is the team’s strong veteran presence. The Rangers have many players like Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Elvis Andrus, Cole Hamels and Derek Holland who all have a wealth of experience with pennant race baseball late in the season. Astros position players have 35 combined games of postseason experience and 18 of them come from Jed Lowrie. Hank Conger has a strikeout in his only postseason plate appearance. Just a little fun note for those of you who also harbor resentment for this nonsense. Their starting pitchers have seven career postseason starts but they are all by Scott Kazmir. Current active Ranger position players have combined for 175 postseason games; Ranger’s starting pitchers have combined for 29 postseason starts.
Both Texas and Houston are now on the national stage. Both Texas and Houston have grabbed national headlines with big moves at the deadline to show they are contenders. Both Texas and Houston have come ready to play. Each team has above a 50% chance to make the postseason (Texas 58% Houston 91% per FanGraphs). This series is critical for both teams and the whole baseball world is watching. Let’s check out what to look for in this huge series.
Game 1: Cole Hamels vs. Scott Kazmir
Since the Hamels’ rough start against Seattle on August 7th the team is 5-0 in Cole’s starts. Normally team record isn’t important but the note to highlight in this is that the team scored only four runs in four of those five starts. Hamels has faced the Astros 10 times in his career with Houston posting a .708 OPS against him. In that time Hamels has struck out 4.85 Astros for every one he has walked. Only three current Astros have faced Hamels more than five times and only Evan Gattis (3-9 two homers) has hit over .200 off of him.
Scott Kazmir the last time he faced Texas allowed a single earned run off a Chris Gimenez solo home run and took the loss in the final contest of a three game sweep in Arlington. In his last seven starts Kazmir has gone 40 innings while allowing 19 earned runs and during that stretch posted a WHIP of 1.45. The Astros are 1-6 during that stretch. Look for Adrian Beltre to keep mashing seeing as he has hit .296 in 27 at bats against Kazmir.
Inserting Chi Chi Gonzalez into the rotation to move Hamels back to start game one of this series highlights its magnitude. Texas looks to start the series out strong and maybe grab the division lead by Wednesday morning.
Game 2: Derek Holland vs Collin McHugh
This matchup is the one that will be either incredibly entertaining or a dud. I don’t want to decree it either way because then it will surely be the opposite because the baseball gods despise me. McHugh has pitched 12 innings against the Rangers in his two starts but only allowed two earned runs. This is surprising given that six of the nine Rangers with more than one at bat against him are hitting over .300 and five of those six batting over .400 against McHugh. Over his last 15 starts (98 innings) the Illinois native has posted a 2.92 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.
Derek Holland has thrown well in four of his five starts since returning from injury August 19th. The lone exception to his excellence was last week’s start in Seattle. From my perspective Holland looked good for the majority of the start. Dutch was the victim of some cruel bounces in the first inning and received absolutely zero offensive support from a team in an offensive slump going up against a dominant ace in King Felix. Holland induced weak contact from most every Mariner who wasn’t named Nelson Cruz. In his other starts the Dutch Oven has allowed two or less runs in every start except against the Blue Jays in the middle of their white hot offensive tear. The key note in all these starts is that Holland has kept his team in the game. Even during the Seattle game the Rangers had plenty of opportunities to get back in the game.
Wednesday’s contest features two dominant lefty starters This matchup is the game about which I am most excited. The Rangers will match up against the likely Cy Young winner by pitting their own left handed stud on the hill. Keuchel has dominated the Rangers in his three starts against them this year. He’s pitched 22 innings against Texas and only allowed three earned runs. In his last start against the Rangers Keuchel only allowed two hits in seven shutout innings. During his last seven starts (49.2 innings) Dallas has allowed a paltry 10 earned runs and an astounding nine walks while racking up 52 K’s.
Perez has struggled in his 10 starts this year. He has yet to allow zero runs in any of his starts so far. Why not now Martin? Tommy John recovery is an arduous battle and command is the last thing to return and it shows in the seven walks he issued in the last two starts combined. Houston hitters are aggressive which Perez might be able to work to his advantage. Astros hitters have struck out 1248 times this year which is tops in the AL and second in baseball to the Chicago Cubs’ 1325. Perez has been consistent in the thing he does best: getting ground balls. This year Martin gets 2.81 ground outs for every air out.
This game will likely be the hardest for the Rangers to win but if they do win it I believe Texas will have an excellent chance to win the series.
Game 4: *Colby Lewis vs. *Lance McCullers
The asterisks are there because the rotations haven’t been officially set for those days but McCullers and Lewis would be pitching Thursday if the current rotation held. McCullers has only faced the Rangers once in his career but it was a one heck of a clunker performance. The former first round pick only recorded one out but gave up six runs. That start was also in Globe Life Park and the damage could have been far worse seeing as McCullers left the game with the bases loaded. His ERA skyrocketed up more than half a run after the dust settled.
Since then Lance McCullers has been excellent. In 101.2 innings this year the rookie has a 131 ERA+ and a 2.96 WHIP. Command has been a bit of an issue of late so look for Ranger hitters to make him pay for nibbling early.
Colby Lewis halted a worrying cold streak with a dominant complete game shutout his last time on the hill. In his four starts against Houston this year Texas is 3-1. Colby gave up seven runs in his start against McCullers. During those four starts Colby has lasted 7.1 innings or more in three of them and went six innings in the other. The veteran has come up big when Texas has needed him most so look for him to lock down the series win or sweep or split in the series finale.
Some final notes for this preview are very simple: Beltre and Prince are heating up. It has been noted all season that if these two hitters could heat up at the same time that the Rangers would become an incredibly dangerous team. Couple that with a Choo inferno and even a lukewarm other six hitters and you have got a force. Texas seems bound and determined to make Mike Napoli professional outfielder a thing. Napoli is in tonight’s lineup as the left fielder. Yesterday Mike played his first professional appearance in the outfield and went five innings without a ball being hit to him. This looks to be a clear statement in the team’s lack of confidence in Ryan Rua and all the other right handed bench pieces. Even though Napoli has a .866 OPS in 53 plate appearances it’s a very small sample size. During the team’s offensive drought the club appears to have prioritized a hot bat over defensive competence.
This series is almost underway so strap up your boots, ready your Shiner beer, and brush your horses because it’s baseball time in Texas. Don’t talk to me about Cowboys football right now or any NFL or NCAA nonsense. This is premium pennant race baseball filling my sports adrenaline right now. Lastly, Chuck Morgan get your stereo ready to play this song four times in the next four days because we’re all sure as shoot ready for some Silver Boot baseball!