When this became the matchup for the ALCS, everyone expected one of the most intense matchups of the postseason with two in-state and in-division rivals battling it out.
This series did not disappoint one bit as the prominent AL dynasty took on one of the premier on-the-rise teams in baseball and it went the distance to a full seven games.
The Texas Rangers fought through loads of adversity all season as they transformed from one of the worst teams in baseball last season to the team that was able to end the Astros’ run of dominance in the American League.
Everything clicked in Texas from the spending over the past few offseasons, to the development of key young players, Bruce Bochy becoming the manager, and the aggressive moves made to reinforce the roster at the deadline.
The Rangers controlled the AL West for the majority of the season but fell into an intense three-team race late in the season and were unable to secure the division title as Houston pulled it out for their sixth-straight full season division title on the final day of the season.
Many teams would not have been able to recover from a late-season disappointment like that but the Rangers came into the postseason as a Wild Card team determined to make a run. They swept through the first two rounds of the postseason by beating two teams that finished with many more wins than they did in the regular season.
After falling down 3-2 and losing all three home games in this battle for Texas, the Rangers got up and responded like they have all season long. They absolutely took it to Houston in the final two games on the road to earn a trip to the World Series and send their rival packing.
Texas has put together an otherworldly postseason to this point and they’re not done just yet with a chance to win the World Series starting on Friday. First and foremost though, let’s look at how they were able to take down the best team of this generation.
Despite the defending champions coming into the series with years of dominance under their belt, the Rangers were the ones that started the series in that manner. They came out hot and took the first two games in Houston behind their co-aces who led the way in their sweeps of the Rays and Orioles during the first two rounds.
The Rangers were able to shut down the Houston crowd behind another Jordan Montgomery gem and a few timely knocks against Justin Verlander to start off the series in the best way possible. They continued in the next game as they carried over that momentum by putting up four runs on Framber Valdez in the first inning and never looked back despite the Astros’ comeback attempt making it interesting.
The Rangers’ offense was not at the level we were used to seeing earlier in the month but got the job done in a timely manner led by the likes of Jonah Heim and Leody Tavares.
With some of the offensive superstars not performing to the best of their ability throughout much of this series, the depth of the Rangers lineup kept them rolling.
At this point in the series, the Rangers were heading back to their home crowd with a 2-0 series lead and looked to be in full control with three upcoming games in Arlington. This was far from the case with the experienced Astros more than comfortable playing on the road, where many of their best playoff moments have come in recent seasons.
The Astros offense was dominant against Max Scherzer and Andrew Heaney early and often in the third and fourth games of the series. With Yordan Alvarez remaining the most-feared hitter on the planet and Jose Altuve finding his postseason groove, the Astros took care of the Rangers in game three regardless of Josh Jung’s two-homer night.
They proceeded to clobber Texas in the next game as Alvarez and Jose Abreu combined for six RBI and Jose Altuve reached base four times. Houston’s bullpen shut down the Rangers behind big games from Hunter Brown and Phil Maton after Jose Urquidy exited in the third inning.
The Astros’ pitching depth shined for their first two wins of the series and you really wouldn’t have been able to tell that they were playing on the road.
Through the first four games of the series and the first run through the rotation, the series was even at two games a piece making it essentially a three-game series with each team’s best three arms set to pitch.
Game Five of this series was probably the best game of the postseason to this point with a movie-like storyline that was simply unbelievable.
Losing three straight games at home was the worst possible scenario for the Rangers after winning the first two in Houston. After another night of strong pitching from aces Justin Verlander and Jordan Montgomery, the Astros led 2-1 late in the game behind an Alex Bregman home run and another clutch Abreu RBI knock.
That lead was not safe as Adolis Garcia mashed in a big moment like he always seems to do. His three-run go-ahead home run off of Justin Verlander electrified the crowd after two deflating home losses. This felt like a moment that the Rangers could have run with all the way into the World Series given the magnitude of the moment and the energy felt throughout Globe Life Field.
In his next at-bat, Adolis Garcia was drilled with a pitch and all chaos broke loose in Texas. The benches cleared and the focus shifted away from the fact that the Rangers were one frame away from taking a 3-2 series lead but the Astros can never be counted out.
After the eruption ended, the Astros were able to escape the inning unscathed and head into ninth with one of the greatest playoff performers ever due up later in the inning.
After an excellent appearance out of the bullpen from Josh Sborz, the Rangers trusted Jose Leclerc with yet another multi-inning save as he finished off an inning for Aroldis Chapman and headed into the last frame with a two-run lead to protect.
Jose Altuve delivered one of the most incredible home runs in recent LCS history as he blasted a three-run shot to take the lead and win the game for Houston.
Altuve’s playoff dominance over the years cannot be understated as he now has the second-most playoff home runs in the history of MLB and could easily break that record in the near future.
This home run took the life out of Texas as they lost their third-straight game in Arlington and headed back to Houston needing to beat their rival on the road for the third and fourth time this series to advance.
Texas has not been a team that backs down throughout the season and they were able to keep on fighting like they have the entire season. With Nathan Eovaldi being one of the best postseason pitchers in the league and the Rangers’ continual ability to hit against Framber Valdez, Texas felt comfortable in this one.
After falling behind on a few little hits to start the game, Mitch Garver and Jonah Heim delivered the lead for the Rangers with two home runs and the Rangers never looked back. Eovaldi battled through numerous tough innings and delivered a huge start for his team as the game remained closely contested throughout.
The Astros began to make a run at coming back but the Rangers trusted Leclerc with the ball just after he took the loss on the Altuve home run in the prior game. This game had everything fans wanted from a potential elimination game and the final at-bat of the eighth inning represented that to the fullest.
Jon Singleton, one of the best stories in baseball this season, was called upon to pinch-hit with the bases loaded and two outs against the Rangers’ bullpen ace.
Singleton worked the count effectively to 3-2 with the game evidently on the line. With the chance to deliver on the biggest stage for Singleton, Leclerc was eventually able to strike him out in one of the most exhilarating at-bats of the postseason.
Texas was not out of danger though as they had just been beaten by Houston in the ninth inning the game prior so they knew it was far from over. However, they all but ended the game with a massive grand slam by Adolis Garcia, after having struck out every at-bat up until that one. He came through just a game after being at the center of tension and iced the game for Texas.
This moment felt almost too good to be true from a spectacle standpoint and this series was destined for a game seven after the road team was able to win the first six games of the series.
All of that offensive momentum the Rangers built up carried over and was evident early in game seven. The Rangers erupted early and kept it rolling with power against the Astros. Corey Seager got things started with a massive home run in the second at-bat of the game and the Rangers legitimately never looked back at that point.
The Rangers chased Cristian Javier when he had only recorded one out after he had been incredible through the first four postseason stars of his career. Javier allowed just one less hit in game seven than he did in those four previous starts combined.
Adolis Garcia continued to destroy baseballs with yet another home run for the fourth-straight game as the Rangers put eight runs on the board before the end of four innings.
While Max Scherzer was far from great, he was better than Cristian Javier and took the Rangers into the third inning where they turned the ball over to Jordan Montgomery, who channeled his inner Madison Bumgarner with a brilliant relief appearance after just two days of rest since he started game five.
Montgomery’s 3.1 innings of work kept the Astros firmly in check, while the Rangers extended their lead and essentially put the Astros to rest.
Garcia, Carter, and Lowe continued the offensive explosion from Texas which allowed their bullpen to take care of the rest of the game with ease.
Adolis Garcia decided to go deep once more as he put away the ALCS MVP award with a historic game and series. He now holds the record for the most RBI in a single round of the playoffs and is close to breaking the record for the most single-season playoff RBI by a player.
The road team took every single game of this series in an unbelievable matchup that resulted in Texas taking down their division rival and the defending World Series Champion.
Leading the Charge
While many of the superstars played pivotal roles in this series, it was not necessarily all big names that came through in many cases for Texas in this upset series victory.
The Rangers continued to be led by their co-aces Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi. They won the first two games behind excellent starts from these two with Montgomery tossing a shutout and Eovaldi fighting through some difficulties to keep the Rangers in position to win.
While the Rangers lost Montgomery’s second start due to the ninth inning Altuve home run, he returned to the mound on just two days rest and pitched a crucial stretch of the deciding game seven. His performance in game seven was unbelievable and further cemented his status as one of the premier free-agent pitchers in all of baseball.
Eovaldi was the starter in two wins for the Rangers as he outdueled Valdez in each of his starts and has looked like the absolute best version of himself after dealing with a frustrating injury in the second half of the season.
For Houston, Justin Verlander was his steady veteran self once more even though he got taken deep in a huge spot by Adolis Garcia.
Meanwhile, Cristian Javier got the Astros back into this series with an exceptional start in game three to follow up from his dominant start in Minnesota as he further established himself among the best playoff starters, but the Rangers figured him out in game seven which ultimately sealed the deal.
The biggest advantage the Astros had entering the series was their bullpen. Their depth in the bullpen shined throughout the series with the likes of Ryan Pressly, Phil Maton, Hunter Brown, and others leading the charge for Houston with consistent outings throughout the series.
As mentioned many times, the Rangers relied heavily on Jose Leclerc in this series and he was exceptional aside from the game-losing home run allowed to Altuve. With that said, the most dominant arm the Rangers turned to throughout the series was actually Josh Sborz, who was not even in the Rangers top three or four options out of the bullpen during the regular season.
Aroldis Chapman has a flare for the dramatic when he pitches at this point in his career, but he still played a pivotal role for the Rangers throughout the series and playoffs.
The Rangers bullpen had been a huge concern throughout October, but Jose Leclerc and Josh Sborz carried the load with other typical starters like Martin Perez, Jon Gray, and Andrew Heaney providing help to a bullpen unit that needed it.
The offense of Texas has been their best feature all season but some of their superstars struggled for much of this series. Fortunately, a few players took over as the depth shined for Texas and they made it happen offensively every game they played in Houston.
The first player that has to be highlighted is none other than Adolis Garcia who homered in the last four games of the series and delivered some of the most electric moments of the postseason. He tore up the Astros and took it to another level in the final two games of the series after being hit by a pitch in game five and constantly chirped at by Astros fans.
Garcia led the way with an absurd 1.293 series OPS but got a lot of support from role players within the team as both Marcus Semien and Corey Seager struggled early in the series against Houston. Mitch Garver, Jonah Heim, Nathaniel Lowe, and Leody Tavares all put together big games when called upon as the Rangers displayed their elite offense throughout the entire series.
After a rough start to the series, Corey Seager started the offensive onslaught in game seven and appears to be back into his groove at the plate. He was the engine of the offense for Texas last series and will continue to be a pivotal leader for them in the World Series.
The Rangers’ offense was spectacular throughout most of the series as it has been the entire year and the pitching of Montgomery and Eovaldi allowed them to hold down the Astros’ offense just enough to pull out the series in a full seven games.
Onto the Fall Classic
The Rangers now head to the World Series for the first time in over a decade where they will host the World Series against the winner of the other game seven between the Diamondbacks and Phillies.
With three days of rest before the final series of the season kicks off, the Rangers will have their entire pitching staff ready to go for the next round. Jordan Montgomery pitched tonight which likely makes Nathan Eovaldi the game one starter, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Montgomery take the ball given the unbelievable postseason that he has had so far.
Texas has the offensive firepower to compete with either National League team and their pitching looks stronger right now than it did for much of the year. Max Scherzer will look to get back on track and provide a third strong starting option behind the two postseason aces that have dominated all of October. Jose Leclerc, Aroldis Chapman, and Josh Sborz will lead the bullpen again in the next round but it will be interesting to see which other relief arms deliver in the next series.
If this round of the playoffs is any indication, the World Series is going to be amazing to watch for baseball fans all over the world and the Rangers have a strong chance to take this magical season all the way to a World Series title.