Tuesday newsletter time: Rangers understand that ALCS is far from over
(AP photo/David J. Phillip)
Players know when to say the right thing to the media, like when they have a 2-0 series lead and are headed home with a chance to clinch a trip to the World Series.
Call me naive, but it seems like the Rangers really meant it Monday night when they said that the American League Championship Series is far from over. Staying diligent is the best course of action.
Their 5-4 victory in Game 2 put them in control of the best-of-7 series against the reigning World Series champion Astros. Max Scherzer is listed as the Rangers’ starter Game 3, which begins at 7:03 p.m. Wednesday at a sold-out Globe Life Field.
“We’ve only had one game at home, so it will be fun to get back in front of the home crowd,” second baseman Marcus Semien said. “With that being said, Houston has been playing well in that building, too. We need to buckle down when we get there and play some good baseball like we’ve been doing.”
The Astros went 6-1 this season at Globe Life Field, including three September games in which they overpowered the Rangers. That included scoring seven times in three innings Sept. 6 against Scherzer, who will be making his first start since Sept. 12.
He said on Friday, before he was even on the ALCS roster and before the Rangers had even left for Houston, that he will have to be at his best against a team that was much better on the road than at Minute Maid Park. The Astros went 51-30 on the road, a remarkable 12 games better than at home.
“It feels really good going back home with our fans,” closer Jose Leclerc said. “But with Houston, we know we have to be careful.”
Semien and Corey Seager, the first two Rangers hitters Monday afternoon, swung at the first pitch they saw from Framber Valdez and collected singles. So did No. 4 hitter Adolis Garcia, and Mitch Garver followed that with a second-pitch swing.
By the time the first inning ended, the Rangers were up 4-0. They had a two-fold plan against the Astros left-hander: See it high, let it fly, and don’t get behind in the count.
“The goal for most teams is pretty simple when you face him: Get the ball up,” Semien said. “He’s got a 96 mph sinker and a big curveball, a changeup, other pitches, too, that are all going down.
“So it’s not necessarily about, ‘I’m going to swing at every pitch I see.’ It’s about swinging at the pitches up that you can handle. And he gave us some to handle, and we did just enough to put balls in play and make it tough on them.”
Jonah Heim made the first out as the No. 6 hitter, and he was the first hitter to get behind Valdez. Lowe fell behind, too, but slapped an RBI single to left field.
The Rangers have seen Valdez often the past two seasons, and they know how devastating he can be when he’s ahead.
“He’s not a guy you want to get to two strikes on,” Garver said. “His stuff is so good. He’s one of the best in the league when he’s got his stuff going, so we didn’t want to let him settle in and get comfortable.”
Bochy seems to have drawn a line with Aroldis Chapman.
The left-hander pitched in the eighth inning of the first two ALCS games. He benefitted from the Jose Altuve base-running mistake in Game 1 en route to a scoreless inning and allowed Yordan Alvarez’s second home run with two outs in Game 2.
He quickly got the hook after the homer, with Leclerc entering for a four-out save. The Astros had Jose Abreu coming up in a matchup that might have favored the right-handed hitter with the Crawford Boxes and a tie game a pitch away.
If Chapman gets in trouble, which is often the case, it appears the Rangers will be more proactive in getting him.
As for Leclerc, he made things interesting by walking Abreu and then the lefty-hitting Michael Brantley after a visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux. It might have looked as if the Rangers were pitching around Brantley, though Maddux said that wasn’t the case.
Leclerc was told to keep the ball down, and by gosh, that’s what he did.
No problem, though, as he made quick work of Chas McCormick and tossed a 1-2-3 ninth.
No one deserves the Tuesday off day more than Leclerc, who has pitched in all seven of the Rangers’ postseason games.
A blowout win would serve him well, too.
The Astros, headed on the road down 2-0. Enjoy.
— out of context dogs (@contextdogs) October 16, 2023
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org