Baseball is back: Astros and Rangers set to battle all season

Texas’ two Major League Baseball clubs are each other’s biggest threat.

By Michael MarksMarch 29, 2024 1:16 pm, ,

The competition between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros can’t get much tighter than it was last year.

The division rivals finished the regular season with the same record (90-72). When they met in the playoffs, it took all seven games to decide a winner, with the Rangers advancing to win their first-ever World Series title.

The 2024 season is now underway, and it looks like it could be just as close. Richard Justice, a longtime baseball writer and contributor to Texas Monthly, spoke to the Texas Standard about the coming season.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: The Texas Rangers are trying to be the first team in almost 25 years to win back-to-back World Series. Maybe we should talk about the reasons they can and the reasons they might not. 

Richard Justice: Well, the reasons they can do it is that they did it. They did it last year. Whether it’s sustainable or not, we don’t know. They’re substantially a different ballclub.

But when you’ve done it once and the way they did it – I mean, to lose the division on the final day of the regular season, to have to fly cross-country to Tampa – that started a roll where they were just pretty much unbeatable. And they did beat the Astros in Game seven of the American League Championship Series. That’s the big difference.

The questions for them, the reason they can’t do it, is already first week of the season, they’re having to piece the pitching staff together. And that’s the most important thing. Now, the Astros have some questions in that area, too.

But if things work out the way they hope, they will get two potential Hall of Famers back in the second half of the season. Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are both recovering from injuries. And so the way [the Rangers] see themselves now is: “we’re going to be really good in September, better than we are today. And so we just need to hang on.” 

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Lots of folks forget that even though the Rangers won the championship, they did not win their division. They got into the playoffs as a wild card after the Astros finished on top of the American League West. What’s the outlook for Houston this season? 

The Astros are also different. There’s two things: There’s way different clubhouse leadership, a new manager in Joe Espada, after four very successful seasons under Dusty Baker. And Michael Brantley and Martin Maldonado are both gone. They didn’t have the title, but they essentially were team captains, and they kept things in line. And so how do you fill that void?

The other part of it is the Astros had a lot of guys that weren’t very good last year or weren’t as good as they were supposed to be: Framber Valdez, who was not good on opening day, Cristian Javier, the shortstop, Jeremy Peña. Those are the questions – those guys really need to bounce back.

But the bigger picture, the 30,000 foot picture, is that the Rangers and the Astros are the two best teams in the American League West. They’re probably both going to the playoffs. And since the Astros moved to the American League, for me at least – I hope a lot of baseball fans in Texas feel the same way – this is the kind of season I’d hope we’d have, where you have the two teams in our state fighting it out. 

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