<
>

Nothing fluky about Texas Rangers' destruction of Houston Astros

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Time will tell, but the Texas Rangers did their best the past four days to take the Houston Astros' baseball soul.

Can you say sweep?

Texas 8, Houston 2.

The Rangers, who entered this four-game series that began Monday 1 1/2 games behind Houston, now lead the Astros by 2 1/2 games. Houston leads Minnesota by 1 1/2 games for the second wild card.

There was nothing fluky about the Rangers' destruction of Houston. They did not trail in the series' final 23 innings and trailed at the end of an inning only three times in 36 innings.

Texas scored nine runs on Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday night, snapping his streak of 40 consecutive starts of at least six innings. The Rangers outhomered Houston, second in the American League with 199 homers, 8-2 and outscored them 33-13.

The Rangers have won seven in a row and 11 of 13 against their Interstate 45 rivals.

"To sweep a four-game series against anybody is challenging," Texas manager Jeff Banister said. "To do it against a club the caliber of the Houston Astros, the way they've played baseball all year long, takes great focus, determination and some things have to go your way."

The only good news for the Astros is they're returning home, where they're 48-24 this season, for a nine-game homestand that concludes with a three-game series against the Rangers.

"I worry about my guys all of the time because it's difficult to absorb some of these losses when we've put so much time and energy in," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "Four days ago, we were celebrating one of the best wins of the year.

"Now, we feel pretty upset about the way the last four games have gone. It's nothing that a good win can't overcome."

The Rangers, as they have done throughout the series, used the middle of their batting order to grab the lead.

Shin-Soo Choo, who had four hits, singled to left and moved to second on Prince Fielder's eight-pitch walk. After Adrian Beltre struck out, Mitch Moreland homered to left on a thigh-high knuckle curve for a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.

Moreland's 21st homer tied him with Fielder for the team lead, and Moreland's 75 RBIs are second on the team.

This is the guy the Rangers have been waiting for years to blossom. He has shown this type of ability in previous seasons, but injuries have seemingly always derailed his progress.

Moreland had a stint on the disabled list (elbow) in May, but he simplified his entire approach at the plate in spring training, making it easier for him to find a rhythm once he returned to the lineup.

"I'm just keeping it simple," he said. "And that helps me relax up there."

Banister's decision to give Mike Napoli, a catcher, first baseman and designated hitter throughout his career, his third start in left field gave Houston an opportunity to get back into the game.

In the fourth inning, Napoli misplayed Evan Gattis' wicked, but catchable, line drive into a double that allowed Jed Lowrie to score from first base. Pitcher Colby Lewis hit Preston Lewis, the next batter, and Luis Valbuena looped a single into right, pulling the Astros within one run at 3-2.

But Rougned Odo ranged far to his left to start a nifty double play and end the inning.

Houston threatened again in the seventh, when it had runners on first and second with none out, but reliever Keone Kela worked out of the jam.

Jose Altuve hit a one-hopper to Beltre, who ran back and touched third base for one out before making a strong throw to first base to complete the double play. Kela struck out George Springer to end the inning.

The Rangers' bullpen, among the best in the baseball in September, pitched three scoreless innings to drop its ERA to 2.17 this month. Its top four relievers did not allow a run in 5 2/3 innings.

The Rangers know when they arrive at the ballpark Friday to start a three-game series against Seattle, their sweep of Houston will mean nothing.

"September is never easy. Chasing a pennant is never easy," Banister said. "You can't exhale. You can celebrate the win tonight, go to sleep and get ready to do it again tomorrow."