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Enjoy the Rangers in a race for the AL West (if you can stand the sight)

There’s nothing quite like baseball teams jockeying for first in September. Now if someone can just get the Rangers back on their horse…

ARLINGTON — Enjoy this. Those were manager Bruce Bochy’s words prior to the Rangers’ big Labor Day showdown with the world-champion Astros. Enjoy this month, this three-way race with Houston and Seattle for the AL West crown because it’s not something anyone envisioned for the Rangers back in spring training.

“We talked about it in Minnesota. You look at where we’re at, and people didn’t think we’d be where we’re at,’’ Bochy said. “You gotta enjoy this.’’

He meant it for his players. I’ll say it for the club’s fans. Enjoy this. Nothing quite like baseball teams jockeying for first in September.


Now if someone can just get the Rangers back on their horse …


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With a sellout crowd in a stadium about half-filled with Astros fans, Monday’s game felt different but looked so much like what we have seen the last three weeks. Texas takes an early 3-0 lead through four innings. By the top of the seventh, Bochy and the infielders are all staring off into space as the manager makes his third pitching change with Houston having grabbed an 11-5 lead en route to a 13-6 rout.

It was absolutely unbelievable. Except for the part where we have seen this bullpen explode or implode (choose your means of destruction) so many times recently.


OK, I will step up to the plate and be specific about all this. Ever since a certain columnist met with GM Chris Young in the dugout before a game with the Angels and pronounced the first-place Rangers as “uncatchable,” the team has gone 4-13. Uncatchable has turned to unwatchable except for those who enjoy the Home Run Derby aspect of Rangers’ play.

The nine home runs Monday were a Globe Life Field record. Corey Seager hit two more to give him 28 even though he missed more than a month of the season. That’s 13 for Seager since Aug. 1. Most in baseball. Kinda cool, but also somewhat meaningless. Mitch Garver clubbed another one Monday, his third in two days here. Each of Seager’s home runs gave Texas a lead, and Garver’s sixth-inning home run tied the game.

They were all rendered footnotes by the Astros’ six-run seventh off of Josh Sborz, who has joined Will Smith and Aroldis Chapman in the lineup of bullpen suspects who are bringing a once-promising season — Texas was 6 1/2 games out front in June, still 3 1/2 games in first on Aug. 15 — toward a very unsightly climax.

”A rough patch is probably not an accurate statement,’’ said starter Andrew Heaney, who blanked Houston for four innings but could not finish the fifth. “We know how good we can be. It feels like we’re very far away from that, but it also feels so close.’’

Close like when the Rangers execute a “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out“ double-play that Texas fans have loved since the days of Pudge. Before the fans could stop cheering in the sixth, Mauricio Dubon tied the game with a home run and Jose Altuve launched one for the lead. That all happened — the double-play and the two home runs — in the course of four pitches.

Just for fun, Dubon and Altuve would go back-to-back again in the ninth. And this was before catcher Austin Hedges came in to pitch.

Still (somehow) the Rangers are one game out of first place in the West, behind both the Mariners and Astros. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, beyond that 4-13 record of late, they are now just one-half game ahead of Toronto for the final wild-card spot. So there are no guarantees that if Texas comes up short in this division chase, it will have earned one of the three wild-card positions.


In mid-August, this team was 72-48, almost surely headed for 95 wins. At 76-61, 90 wins feels like a stretch. At the very least, it will require more wins than losses the rest of the way, which means a change in trajectory. Astros manager Dusty Baker is just now seeing his team come together as outfielder Michael Brantley spent 132 games on the injured list before coming off it last week. Likewise, Altuve and Yordan Alvarez were gone for long stretches, and you have to like Houston’s crazy advantage in experience — four World Series trips the last six years — when it comes to playing meaningful games later this month.

Houston clinched the season series with the Rangers with Monday’s win, and Baker knows something has to give in the final 10 games of the season when Seattle and Texas play seven times.

“I know if we’re winning while they’re playing each other a lot, we’re gonna gain on somebody,’’ Baker said. “I know we really haven’t hit a hot streak yet because we haven’t had all our personnel. It’s going to be a battle to the end.’’

Maybe no hot streak for Houston, but the Astros did score 11 runs in three innings Monday. That’s a hot something. After more than three months of front-running, the Rangers are nothing but a hot mess.


The return of All-Star pitcher Nathan Eovaldi just might lead the Rangers out of the darkness. The club was 16-18 with him on the injured list. He will surely help. But he can’t go nine innings.

Twitter: @TimCowlishaw

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