Minor fans 8, leads Rangers to sweep of Astros
HOUSTON -- The Rangers are in last place in the American League West, they are in selling mode going into the Trade Deadline and they are embarking on a major rebuilding project.
But a weekend at Minute Maid Park reinforces one possibility about the Rangers. This team may not be that far away from long-term success if they could just solve their persistent starting pitching problems. It was not a problem during a three-game series against the Astros.
Mike Minor completed a terrific weekend of starting pitching for the Rangers, who secured a three-game sweep of the Astros with a 4-3 victory on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. This is the second time the Rangers have swept a three-game series this season; their first sweep came on June 18-20 at Kansas City. Delino DeShields, Jurickson Profar and Ronald Guzman each knocked RBI doubles in the win, while closer Keone Kela secured his 24th save.
"A lot of confidence in how we played," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "A lot of young guys on the field today, some really nice defensive plays by our guys. ... The story was timely hitting, baserunning and Mike Minor being able to grind through it with sharp stuff."
The last time they swept a three-game series against the Astros was May 20-22, 2016, in Houston. The Rangers entered the series having lost eight straight against their Texas rivals.
"When you're facing those guys, that is an exceptional team, their win-loss tells it all," Banister said. "Championship tells a lot. However, I was proud of our guys. We talked about grinding out at-bats. Don't worry about results early. Grind through the at-bats, put as many pitches on the pitcher as you possibly can. Get opportunity to drive in the run, put together the at-bat that allows you to keep the ball in the middle of the field and allow those runs to score. That's what we did today."
The starting pitching allowed that to happen. Minor allowed two runs in six innings on four hits and a walk while striking out eight, his second most in 20 starts this season. He left after throwing 90 pitches, and he is now 3-2 with a 3.52 ERA in his past nine starts.
"I was able to throw all my pitches on both sides of the plate," Minor said. "This was the fifth time I've faced them, so we had to change it up more. I threw more curveballs and changeups than before. I used all four pitches instead of just two."
Minor followed Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Jurado on the mound in the series, and the three starters combined to hold the Astros to three runs in 17 1/3 innings. The Rangers, despite being in last place and 17 games under .500, are 31-24 this year when their starters go at least five innings and allow three or fewer runs.
"That's true. We have been aware of that," said Banister. "Listen, you don't have to look any further than across the way and look at [the Astros], their starting pitching and what they do. It is crucial to get those solid starts from your starter, the ability to manage the game from the mound and allow your offense to play. If we get quality starts, we have a real good opportunity to win games."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Astros, trailing 4-2, started the seventh with a single by Tyler White and a double by J.D. Davis against reliever Alex Claudio, putting runners on second and third. Claudio retired Martin Maldonado on a fly to left as White, a slow runner, stayed at third. With Tony Kemp at the plate, the Rangers played their middle infielders back, almost conceding a run. Kemp hit a sharp grounder at second baseman Rougned Odor, who went home with his throw and nailed White trying to score.
"I was thinking about it before the play," Odor said. "I anticipated making that throw."
Claudio then got George Springer on a grounder to third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa to end the inning.
The Rangers won despite striking out 19 times at the plate. It's the fifth time in Rangers history that they have struck out 19 times in a game, but the first time they won despite the whiffs.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Profar came up with Odor on second and nobody out in the fifth inning. He whacked a grounder up the middle that hit off Astros starter Lance McCullers and caromed into left field. Odor scored and Profar raced for second when the Astros left the bag uncovered.
Second baseman Yuli Gurriel scrambled back and took the throw, but Profar was safe with a head-first slide. Gurriel spiked Profar in the face on the play -- causing some bleeding that needed to be patched up -- but he stayed in the game. Profar, with one out, also took third base on a pitch in the dirt and scored when Kiner-Falefa reached on an error by Gurriel.
"I was thinking two right away, because the shortstop wasn't there," Profar said. "I hesitated, but when there was nobody at second base, that's when I went."
HE SAID IT
"We got swept. We got swept by the worst team in the division, record-wise. It's always tough to swallow." -- McCullers
Martin Perez will be on the mound for the Rangers when they open a two-game series against the D-backs at 8:40 p.m. CT Monday at Chase Field. Perez is 0-1 with a 3.93 ERA in three starts since coming back from the disabled list. Third baseman Adrian Beltre and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who have been Texas' primary designated hitters, are both expected to be in the lineup. Left-hander Robbie Ray is scheduled to pitch for Arizona.