Up until about three weeks ago, it was the Texas Rangers’ year.
A combination of prodigious free-agent spending and prospect development had given them baseball’s best lineup, coupled with a rotation recently topped out by three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. They were up 3.5 games in competitive AL West, with the best run differential in the AL and on pace for their best regular-season record … ever.
Those days fully faded into memory Wednesday, when the Houston Astros completed an unholy shellacking of their in-state rivals destined for the record books.
With Scherzer on the mound for the Rangers, the Astros took the series finale 12-3 on the road, after winning 13-6 on Monday and 14-1 on Tuesday. Without context, it might have been the most dominant series sweep by any team this season.
With context, it was hard not to see a team gleefully nailing down the coffin lid of an upstart rival.
The Astros made MLB history with three straight games of at least five homers each, joining the 2020 New York Yankees, 2019 Yankees and 1977 Boston Red Sox as the only teams with such a streak, per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs. Their 16 homers in that span is tied for the second-most in MLB history, behind only the same 2020 Yankees. Keep in mind what kind of ball MLB was using in 2019 and 2020.
Of those homers, Jose Altuve had five (three on Tuesday alone) while Mauricio Dubón, Martin Maldonado, Yordan Álvarez and José Abreu all had two.
It’s not like the Astros caught the Rangers at the bottom of their rotation either. Andrew Heaney, one of the Rangers’ big free agency acquisitions last winter, started Monday. Nathan Eovaldi, an All-Star this season and another free agent signing, started Tuesday. Scherzer, the big splash of the trade deadline, started Wednesday.
The trio combined to allow 14 earned runs. Scherzer was responsible for half of them, coming up well short in a hyped duel between him and his teammate of two months ago, Justin Verlander.
If the Rangers were going to turn around their season after losing eight straight games and the division lead at the end of last month, this would have been the series to do it. Instead, they were humiliated and pushed to third place in a division they led for the first four-and-a-half months of the season.
The 76-63 Rangers now sit three games back from the Astros in the AL West, with the second-place Seattle Mariners (one game back) between them.
It’s tempting to say they get a reprieve with their next series, a three-game home series against the last-place Oakland Athletics, but the A’s have more than twice as many wins (10) as the Rangers (four) over the last three weeks.