The Houston Astros, owners of the second-worst road record in baseball, came in for three games, sending out three first- or second-year starting pitchers while their two experienced starters, Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ, sat the series out, having just thrown in San Francisco.
Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell, and Dallas Keuchel proceeded to hold the Rangers scoreless for four innings, five innings, and five innings. That was fun.
But then Texas put up a five-run fifth on Friday, a five-run sixth on Saturday, and a seven-run sixth on Sunday, in each case enough scoring in a one-inning burst to win the game. That was more fun.
And just like that, a sweep of the Astros in front of three straight sellout crowds, six wins in seven, seven wins in nine, a 40-27 record – which matches a season-high mark of 13 games over .500 – and a chance in San Diego over the next three days to continue moving the needle in the right direction.
Before Texas returns for a 10-game homestand that kicks off Friday night with either Justin Grimm or Roy Oswalt taking the ball.
On Tuesday night, late, the subtexts will include Josh Hamilton and Edinson Volquez facing off in San Diego and C.J. Wilson and his muse Barry Zito teeing it up in Anaheim, but before that we get Matt Harrison-Jason Marquis and Matt Cain-Jerome Williams tonight, with the Angels-Giants story lines full of substance. Cain takes the mound for the first time since Wednesday’s perfect game (against Houston) – and the track record of pitchers in the start after a perfect game is more scattered than you might think – while Williams, a can’t-miss prospect with the Giants a decade ago who didn’t really pan out and whose path went through the independent leagues before the Angels gave him a chance last year, faces his old team for the second time ever (and first since 2005, when San Francisco traded him to the Cubs). Which is once more than Volquez has faced Texas.
But you can always find subtext, and the story ends up being different.
Like an Astros team absolutely shutting the Rangers offense down early with mediocre pitching, in Arlington, every time.
Or the Rangers offense exploding the third time through the lineup, every time.
Or Grimm with one more big league victory in 2012 than Cliff Lee.
Or Craig Gentry.
With 95 games left, the All-Star Break nearing, and the draft complete, trade discussions now begin to pick up. There will be lots of speculation about what those discussions entail, but the subtext in that regard as far as Texas is concerned is that if there’s any semi-reliable hint of what Jon Daniels is looking to do, it’s because another team or someone’s agent is talking to the press.
But we’ll guess. A lot.
I’m sure Daniels spent late June and all of July doing that as a young Mets fan, so he’ll understand.
In the meantime, the Rangers and Angels march toward two likely playoff berths, something we could see a lot of over the next however-many years with the two-Wild Card format, and the fact that next season Texas will start to get the Astros 18 times a year rather than six is a balloon with a little less air when you realize that the Angels will get them 18 times rather than zero.
But the rosters won’t look the same in 2013. By this August, the Rangers and Angels will have fewer young players and the Astros fewer veterans, and if you asked me whether I hope the Astros trade Rodriguez or the Angels trade Peter Bourjos or the Rangers trade Tanner Scheppers, I’m conflicted in all three cases and don’t know what I hope to see happen.
And that’s a reminder that I need every once in a while to try and shut down the speculation and put away the telescope and to just concentrate on the next game or, as was the case all weekend for the Rangers, to fight through the first four or five innings and wait for the chance to put a much more satisfying picture in the frame.