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Astros seeks to knock off Rangers in rubber game

Sep 6, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (2) hits a single against the Texas Rangers in the fifth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

For all the attention clubs give to analytics, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker is quick to point out the basics.

“RBIs are the name of the game,” Baker said on the Astros pregame radio show. “The teams that get the big RBIs are the teams that win.”

The Astros lacked the big hit on Tuesday in a 4-3 loss to the visiting Texas Rangers. The American League West rivals have split the first two games of the series, which concludes on Wednesday in Houston.

The Rangers snapped a nine-game losing streak on Tuesday, with rookie Ezequiel Duran delivering a key, two-run double.

On Monday, it was the Astros who had the lone RBI hit, a single by catcher Martin Maldonado in a 1-0 win.

For the season, Maldonado has 38 RBIs and reaching 50 is realistic.

“The epitome of a pretty good year is driving in 50 runs,” Baker said. “Now he has 38, which is closing in on 50.”

In the series finale, the Astros are starting right-hander Cristian Javier (8-9, 3.07 ERA). The Rangers counter with rookie left-hander Cole Ragans (0-2, 4.42).

Javier will be making his 21st start and 26th appearance overall this season. In 120 1/3 innings, the 25-year-old has 157 strikeouts.

Over his last seven games, which includes six starts, Javier has been a bit unlucky. The native of the Dominican Republic is 2-4 with a 2.92 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 37 innings, including a WHIP of 0.95.

Traditionally, Javier has fared well against the Rangers. This season, the Astros starter is 2-1 with a 3.27 ERA against the Rangers, and lifetime he’s 5-1 (3.02).

Ragans, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2016, has been on the 15-day injured list since Aug. 26 with a left calf strain.

The rookie faced the Astros once, on Aug. 11 at Houston, his second big league start. He gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings in a loss.

Texas outfielder Kole Calhoun has enjoyed success off Javier, batting .571 with three home runs and four RBIs in 14 career at-bats. Shortstop Corey Seager has two career homers off Javier in 14 at-bats.

For the Rangers, these final weeks are an opportunity not only to play the role of spoiler, but also to instill some priorities as the organization builds for the future.

The mindset interim manager Tony Beasley wants to change is the acceptance that starting pitchers don’t make it three times through the batting order.

There is plenty of statistical data that supports pulling starters after they’ve faced the lineup twice. Still, Beasley isn’t buying it, and doesn’t want his starters to think that way either.

“All the teams that are successful, (their) starters are putting in the work,” Beasley said in an MLB.com story. “And then the bullpen is finishing it off. We have some work to do in that area. We know that, but it starts with our mindset. We have to start expecting more.

“The industry has kind of made two times through the order and not facing it a third time (a norm), and everyone is buying into it. But to me, those things are crutches.”

–Field Level Media