It’s been seven games now, and nobody has yet been able to figure out the Texas Rangers’ postseason formula. Another quality start? Check. Another solid bullpen performance (marred by solo homer off of Aroldis Chapman)? Check. Just enough offense to pick up a win? Check. 24 hours after snatching home-field advantage from the rival Houston Astros, the Rangers made things feel awfully familiar in Game 2, riding a solid Nathan Eovaldi and a four-run first inning outburst to a 5-4 win that has them squarely in control of this ALCS as we head back to Arlington.
Houston gave the ball to lefty Framber Valdez to start Game 2, and given how well the Rangers fared against southpaws all season — and how shaky Valdez looked when we last saw him, allowing five runs and taking the loss in Game 2 against Minnesota — it was hard not to feel like Texas was at an advantage. It didn’t take long for that advantage to materialize: The first five Rangers batters reached base on four hits and a Valdez throwing error, spotting the road team a 3-0 lead before a single out had even been recorded.
Nathaniel Lowe tacked on another RBI single later in the inning, making it 4-0 Rangers after the top half of the first — and immediately taking the air out of Minute Maid Park.
But while Texas’ pitching kept things largely quiet in Game 1, things got a bit hairier in Game 2. While Nathan Eovaldi pitched well overall, Houston slowly but surely began chipping away, first with a Yordan Alvarez homer in the bottom of the second:
Then an Alex Bregman homer in the fourth:
It looked like the flood gates would open for real in the bottom of the fifth, as two singles and an error loaded the bases with no one out — and Jose Altuve and the top of the order looming. But Eovaldi, as he’s done all October, bore down: The righty struck out pinch-hitter Yainer Diaz, then struck out Altuve, then induced an inning-ending grounder for Bregman to escape unscathed.
Eovaldi would give back another run in the sixth on an RBI double from Michael Brantley, but all in all, Texas will take this performance from him any day: six innings, three runs, five hits and a whopping nine Ks, as he once again was able to spot pretty much all of his pitches where he wanted them and threw strikes while avoiding the heart of the plate.
Another quality start meant that, once again, the back-end of the Texas bullpen was tasked with protecting a lead in the late innings. Over the first six games of the postseason, that’s largely been no sweat: A Rangers ‘pen that had a 4.77 ERA during the regular season entered play on Monday with a sparkling 1.86 mark, and the trio of Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman and new closer Jose Leclerc had allowed just one run across 13 innings of work in October.
On Monday, however, it wasn’t quite so simple — thanks, once again, to Alvarez, who took Chapman deep for another homer in the eighth that cut the Houston deficit to 5-4.
Bochy turned to Leclerc with the righty Jose Abreu coming up, but for the first time in the playoffs, the righty struggled, walking both Abreu and Brantley to put the tying run in scoring position for Chas McCormick. In the past, this has been the exact moment in which Houston snatches opponents’ souls, coming up with the big swing that totally flips a series on its ear. Here, however, it was Leclerc who delivered, rebounding from nine straight balls to force a groundout from McCormick to escape the jam.
Leclerc came back out for the ninth and hardly broke a sweat, retiring Jeremy Pena, Diaz and Altuve in order to lock down another huge road win for the Rangers.
Texas boasted one of the best offenses in the league and won 90 games this season, missing out on an AL West title by a tiebreaker. Still, it’s hard not to be taken aback by where they were just a few weeks ago — flailing through multiple September losing streaks, with a pitching staff holding on by a thread — and where they are now, still perfect in October and two wins away from the World Series. If you want to know what’s been behind that drastic turnaround, well, just look at Game 2: Eovaldi, who looked cooked in September after rushing back from a forearm strain, dealing through six innings; Leclerc, who flamed out of a late-inning role earlier in the year, getting a four-out save in one of the toughest environments in the sport.
Closer José Leclerc has pitched in all 7 of the Rangers' games this postseason.— theScore (@theScore) October 16, 2023
This is what’s gotten Texas here, and they show no signs of slowing down any time soon. What’s even scarier is that the Rangers haven’t even gotten a vintage offensive performance yet in this series, and they’ve still taken each of the first two games in Houston. Now they head back home for Game 3 on Wednesday, and while Bochy has yet to make anything official, it seems likely that the team will have the returning Max Scherzer on the mound in some capacity — either as a starter or a bulk guy. The Astros entered this series as the postseason veterans, but it’s been Texas who’s looked unflappable so far, and we’re past the point at which we can just chalk this up to the vagaries of October.