ARLINGTON -- When Max Scherzer struck out Jose Altuve to begin Wednesday’s game, that could have been a sign the Rangers were finally going to neutralize the Astros’ offense. After all, Altuve had slugged five homers in the previous two blowout wins over the Rangers, so keeping him in check was paramount.
The depth of the Astros’ lineup, especially with a healthy Yordan Alvarez, José Abreu and Michael Brantley, goes well beyond their starting second baseman, and it overpowered the struggling Rangers. And on a night when Altuve was held hitless, the Astros still pounded the baseball all over Globe Life Field.
The Astros put an exclamation point on a dominating sweep of the Rangers in the finale of the Lone Star Series by riding seven strong innings from Justin Verlander and crushing five homers, including a grand slam and a three-run homer by Abreu, for a 12-3 rout of the Rangers.
“If there’s one person that gets impressed by what this team can do, it’s me because I’m new here,” Abreu said. “I think that this organization, these guys, when the lights are shining bright, they know how to handle things, they know how to do things well. I'm just very grateful to be part of this, as well.”
- Games remaining: vs. SD (3), vs. OAK (3), at KC (3), vs. BAL (3), vs. KC (3), at SEA (3), at AZ (3).
- Standings update: The Astros are in first place in the American League West by one game over the Mariners, who hold the tiebreaker vs. Houston. The Astros currently are the second-best division winner in the AL, meaning they would bypass the Wild Card Series round.
The Astros outscored the Rangers, 39-10, and outhit them, 50-22, while bashing a club-record 16 home runs in the three-game series to run their road winning streak to eight games. They hit at least five homers in three consecutive games, which ties a Major League record.
“Obviously this was not a good series,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “There wasn’t a lot we did well, to be honest. They played well. They got hot on us, and they didn't miss any mistakes. The long ball killed us in this series. We just didn't execute pitches. We left a lot up throughout the series, and we paid for it. They pitched well, they swung the bats and they put it to us, there's no getting around that.”
The much-anticipated pitcher’s duel between Verlander and Max Scherzer -- both of whom were traded from the Mets in July and into the thick of the AL West race -- never materialized. Scherzer lasted only three innings, while Verlander overcame a first-pitch homer to Marcus Semien -- the only earned run he allowed -- for career win No. 255.
“Look, as a starting pitcher, your job is to carry momentum,” Verlander said. “Our offense made it pretty easy on us this series. Obviously, when you’re staked to a big lead, you want to eat up innings and keep the team off the board as much as possible, and I was able to do that.”
Alvarez hit a two-run homer off Scherzer in the first inning, Brantley hit a solo homer in the second and Abreu broke it open with a third-inning slam to put Houston ahead, 7-1. Abreu added a three-run homer in the ninth and was followed by Chas McCormick, who came off the bench and swatted his 20th homer of the season.
“The guys were ready,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We jumped them early and got in their tired bullpen. Boy, what a day for Abreu -- seven ribbies and two homers. I’ve seen Scherzer a lot better. He left some pitches up on the zone, some breaking balls, and our guys didn’t miss them. Verlander was very good.
"We’re happy about this sweep here, and now we’ll take a day off and play a tough San Diego team we haven’t seen before.”
From a distance, Abreu has marveled at what the Astros have been able to do the last seven years, which is one of the reasons he wanted to sign with Houston in the offseason. The season hasn’t gone as smoothly for him as he’d hoped, but he showed Wednesday he can still contribute with his bat.
Since coming off the IL (lower back) on Aug. 23, he’s slashing .256/.333/.581 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 11 games.
“I’ve had some rough moments, but the biggest thing for me is this whole organization has had my back, a lot of the guys here have had my back -- even [during] the tough moments and the good ones,” Abreu said. “You’ve got to try to find the positive things and take those.”
The goal now for the Astros is keep it going at home, where they’ve struggled to score runs this year.
“It’s not quite playoff baseball, but it’s time to bring that energy and focus and see what these guys are capable of when they do that,” Verlander said.