Astros and Rangers prepare for an old-fashioned Texas shootout in AL West

As the story goes, President George W. Bush asked Yankee captain Derek Jeter for some advice before throwing out the first pitch at the 2001 World Series in The Bronx.

“Derek, should I throw the ball from the mound or in front of it?”

“Throw from the mound, Mr. President,” Jeter would respond candidly. “But don’t bounce it. The fans will boo you.”

Bush served up a perfect strike, but later remarked that he had always hoped to have that honor in Texas. This season, over 20 years later, the former owner of the Texas Rangers might finally get his wish.

The Houston Astros are the defending World Champions and expected to once again make a strong run toward the post season. If the Rangers have their way however, the Astros may not even win the American League West. The boys in Arlington currently have baseball’s second best record and are looking at Houston and the potent Seattle Mariners in the rear view mirror. Why are the long mediocre Rangers all of a sudden having so much success? There are a couple reasons, one because the best roster money can buy is starting to play at their potential and leave egos behind.

The Rangers currently have a major league payroll of about $196 million, the ninth largest in baseball. The Astros and Mariners rank 14th and 18th respectively. The pricey double play combo of Corey Seager ($325 million) and Marcus Semien ($175 million) are starting to blend and play well, especially Seager. The pitching staff has been overhauled with a rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Martin Perez and a surprising Andrew Heaney. And the hired gun, Jacob deGrom ($185 million) is about to come off the IL to bolster this group.

Clearly though, the main ingredients contributing to the Rangers surge has been General Manager Chris Young, who replaced longtime executive Josh Daniels, and the new field boss Bruce Bochy. The towering 6′-10″ Young is a Princeton grad who enjoyed a 17 year pro career, and once pitched for Bochy when the pair were members of the San Diego Padres. Bochy, now 68, managed the San Francisco Giants to three World Series titles and decided to call it quits after the 2019 season. The veteran skipper has a history of heart issues and has undergone three procedures since 2015. But the baseball bug was still biting and Young was able to bring Bochy out of retirement and sign a three year deal.

“It just felt right,” Bruce admitted. “Chris convinced me of the club’s commitment to contend year after year, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Meanwhile in Houston, Dusty Baker‘s crew has dealt with injuries in 2023 from the get go. Jose Altuve broke his thumb in the WBC tournament and missed the season’s first 44 games. Muricio Dubon, the modern day version of Ben Zobrist, filled in admirably at second base and hit .309 during Altuve’s absence. But the Astros missed Jose’s powerful bat and the pitching staff, Houston’s Hallmark strength, has numerous hurlers on the shelf. Oft-injured Lance McCullers Jr. is not expected to return until mid July, the same for Jose Urquidy. And Luis “Rock the Baby” Garcia, is done for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Even though Michael Brantley is struggling with a shoulder injury, the Astros still have one of the most potent lineups in baseball with Altuve, Jeremy Peña, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Jose Abreu, who has been a bust thus far with a fat three year deal ($59 million). Owner Jim Crane, who acted as GM during the off-season, should have kept fan favorite Yuli Gurriel, although that’s a story for another day. The question is whether the Rangers, under the steady guidance of Bochy, will have enough weapons to knock off the Astros. The two teams will meet only 11 more times prior to the post season, and those shootouts will be huge.

It will be Bochy vs. Baker, two managers certain to end up in Cooperstown. Both their teams should make it to the playoffs, but one will be eliminated prior to the Fall Classic. The results should be interesting.

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