Last season the Houston Astros provided help to mostly everyone but themselves in their first go around in the American League West.
Beginning with Yu Darvish‘s near perfect game on the second night of the 2013 season, one of those teams that greatly benefited from the matchups with the rebuilding squad in south Texas was the team hours north of them.
The Rangers dominated their in-state counterparts to a tune of 17 wins and 2 losses. That’s an invaluable +15 for a ballclub that finished 19 games over .500 to simply sneak into the tiebreaker game vs. Tampa Bay.
2014 has been a very, very different year for both sides of the boot (one of my fantasy team names, toot toot).
After being a fringe contender for two seasons following two World Series appearance seasons, things have fallen apart at the seams for the Texas Rangers.
Injuries have infected every part of Jon Daniels’ infrastructure. Facing fight or flight predicaments to begin with on the depth chart –a top heavy starting rotation with injury question marks and a remade batting lineup that also fell apart like a game of Jenga when big pieces fell and the replacements were…ummm…Scott Baker, Jerome Williams, Carlos Pena, Jim Adduci, J.P. Arencibia, a not ready at all Michael Choice and a collection of pitchers dipping way very deep into the reserves.
In fact, with tonight’s call-up of infielder Ryan Rua, the Rangers have tied the record for players used in a season at 59. (2002/2008 San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians 2002)
On the other end, the Houston Astros aren’t having a great or even good season by any means.
Except that’s not true, not at all. The means of the end is all about rebuilding and 2014 –while possessing a few hiccups (Jon Singleton below the Mendoza line, Carlos Correa under the knife, Jason Castro well below average and Jonathan Villar well, well below everything).
However, George Springer has arrived and met early expectations, Jarred Cosart fetched the club a great return from the Miami Marlins at the Trade Deadline, Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel have been terrific revelations and overall the pitching, from preseason de facto ace Scott Feldman to new closer Chad Qualls, the season has show oh so many signs of hope the franchise was desperate for but patiently waiting until maybe 2016 for.
Some things are coming earlier than expected, but this isn’t bad news it’s good news and you want it first. Consider 2012 the bad news.
So far in 2014 the roles have reversed among the two Texas baseball teams, the Astros are 9-4 against the Rangers after last night’s 4-2 victory and have a chance tonight to secure the Silver Boot for the first time since 2006.
The prevailing theory is that this is temporary as the Rangers team returns to health next season and the Astros continue to rebuild before potentially breaking through the middle of the pack and possibly even emerging from it with awesome bright orange colors in 2016.
However, Texas Rangers General Manager may not admit it –or admit anything negative like Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Geovany Soto, Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder (???), Shin-Soo Choo‘s contract, Matt Harrison‘s extension, Alex Rios‘ still being around and the absence of a bench in as many years as his tenure. Don’t even get me started on Elvis Andrus‘ extension instead of dealing him for David Price.
The fact is, even if healthy, the Rangers heart of the order (as projected entering 2014) was capped off by Alex Rios and followed by a platoon at DH of Mitch Moreland and the not ready at all Michael Choice. The rotation was relying on very unhealthy histories like Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis to be healthy and for Yu Darvish to be an ace and handle an absolutely gargantuan workload pre dating back to his seasons in Japan.
The bullpen in Houston was loaded with experiments and topped by a veteran or two, as a rebuilding club is accustomed to employing.
As for the batting lineups, the Rangers had much more talent at the top but the Astros lineup has surpassed the Rangers futile collection rather quickly after pieces at the top in north Texas started to fall like dominoes.
Houston has had its share of injuries and disappointments like the Rangers and any other team, but the Astros bench was supplied with capable players rather than veterans with little pop and peripheral value.
The Astros starting rotation depended on upside and hopeful stability from some veterans. They’ve received both but have had some of their own misfortunes with young starters like Brad Peacock and veteran candidates like the aforementioned Jerome Williams.
The club has maneuvered these issues like most teams do, with days off and call ups and spot starts, but the Rangers lack of depth over the years –although their low minor league level talent is superb– the instability higher up that the Astros have tinkered with whilst not even needing those parts as badly as their rival Rangers proves superior front office management.
The same depth that Jon Daniels has failed to assemble for his Major League Baseball team over nine seasons Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has better put together in three seasons.
The fact is while the more notable Texas team for the past seven or eight seasons may return to being more competitive than the Astros in 2015 the future looks much brighter overall long term for Houston over Arlington.
“So who’s the Ant, who’s the Boot?”