Yep, Rangers are still owning the Astros

I’ve been at work during every one of Yu Darvish’s eight starts in 2016. Due to the fact that Yu is my favorite baseball player on the planet, this saddens me. But because the Rangers are only 3-5 in his eight starts (with 3 no decisions along the way), it saddens me less. I haven’t been missing very much in terms of team performance.

When it comes to individual performance, however, there aren’t many starting pitchers capable of what Yu Darvish does. On Sunday in a no decision against the Astros, Yu went 7 IP and allowed no runs on five hits, with 8 punch outs and no walks along the way.

The Rangers ended up winning, 5-3, in extra innings.

Darvish has thrown 45.2 innings in his eight starts (roughly 5.2 IP on average), with a 2.78 ERA (2.58 xFIP) and a K/UIBB ratio of 62/14. His +1.4 fWAR is second on the club to Cole Hamels (+2.0 fWAR), despite Hamels having thrown about 3.5 times as many innings. At the same rate he’s at now, given the same innings-pitched allotment as Hamels, Darvish would have accumulated about +5.0 FIP-wins. He is quite simply one of a handful of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.

More importantly for the Rangers, with Sunday’s win they are now 11-2 against their intrastate rival Houston in 2016. Not only did they win 2 of 3 on the road in the most important series of the Astros season, they knocked Houston into 3rd place in the AL West, 7.5 games out. Seattle now holds the 2nd spot, a full 7 games behind the Rangers.

With 50 games left in the regular season Texas is in commanding position to haul in its second consecutive AL West crown, and 4th in the last 7 years.

The Astros, meanwhile, are in a dogfight to secure one of the two Wild Card slots. Below are how the standings currently look:

1 Toronto, 63-49
2 Detroit, 61-50
3 Boston, 60-50 (-0.5)
4 Seattle, 57-53 (-3.5)
5 Houston, 57-54 (-4.0)
6 New York, 56-55 (-5.0)

Yes, the deadbeat Yankees are within a game of arguably the most talented team in the AL West, the Astros, who are also behind the hapless Mariners in the Wild Card hunt. The only rational explanation to this is Houston’s insane 2-11 misfortune against the Rangers this year.

Further, the teams Houston has to leapfrog — okay maybe not Seattle — are actually pretty talented. Boston and Toronto feature two of the best offenses in baseball, and while Detroit may be smoke and mirrors, they still offer a decent front of the rotation and Miguel Cabrera is still in their lineup.

If I had to guess right now, I do like Houston and Toronto. But with only 50 or so games to play with there is by no means any clear-cut favorite among the bunch. (For the record, I think the Red Sox end up winning the AL East.)

Even for a great team, of which the American League doesn’t have one this year, to go 11-2 against the worst team is something of a small miracle. The Rangers — who aren’t a great team — have managed to do that against the Astros — who are far from the worst team — and that is an oddity of this baseball season. If all things were equal, given run differential and other such qualifiers, Houston would be 7-4 or, at worst, 6-5 against the Rangers this year. That has not been the case.

Will this author complain about that? Absolutely not. But I wouldn’t be anything close to objective if I didn’t at least acknowledge how much luck the Rangers have had against Houston in 2016. The Astros are a top-8 team in MLB, worthy of being division champions.

Unfortunately the Rangers — my favorite team — have set them back so far over the first two-thirds of the baseball season that any aspirations of winning the West have become extremely unlikely. So unlikely, in fact, that Houston’s great hope has effectively shifted from the West to the Wild Card.

And though that’s a problem 10 of the 15 teams who aren’t involved in the postseason dance would love to have, a coin-flip game isn’t what the Astros, or I, envisioned heading into the season.

Oh fucking well.

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