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Astros have surpassed the Rangers, and it might not be temporary


I don’t know Nolan Ryan personally, so I can’t say if he has a vindictive side or not.

But with the all-time strikeout king firmly situated in Houston now after being unceremoniously disrespected and deposed as the Rangers’ team president last winter, you have to think what just recently happened at Globe Life Park brought a smile to his face.

With Wednesday’s 8-4 final, the Houston Astros completed a humiliating sweep of the Rangers on their home field, with not even Yu Darvish being able to salvage anything. The club hit rock bottom in more ways than one, as the series dropped the team that won the pennant in 2010 and 2011 into last place, percentage points behind that club that came into this year with three-straight 100-loss seasons.

When the Astros joined the American League in 2013, Rangers fans salivated at the thought of at least 10 more wins and the ability to flex their muscle even more. Of course, Texas did dominate Houston, but they needed all of those wins just to stay in the wild card hunt.

Now the tables have turned. Though some still cling to the belief that all of this is solely due to the injury factor and predicting an immediate bounce back in 2015 (after throwing away $300 million to David Price this winter, of course).

But if there is any reason to be concerned that this season is more than just an anomaly due to extreme bad luck, it’s that while this club has regressed steadily since 2012, every organization in the AL West has been getting better. And that includes the one 240 miles south down I-45.

Not everyone continues to ridicule Houston anymore. Sports Illustrated wouldn’t have published a cover story on the Astros if they didn’t like what was going on in that organization, and the words printed in that article should give the few true baseball fans in DFW lots of concern.

General manager Jeff Luhnow and his right-hand-man – “director of decision sciences” – Sig Mejdal have completely revitalized what had been one of the lowest systems in the game. There farm system has gone from the worst to one of the best, and it’s already reaping the rewards in the likes of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel.

This is thanks largely to a plan that demands old-fashioned player scouting be maintained while still going with the newer, controversial “moneyball” approach of advanced stats and sabermetrics.

The Rangers had that for a time when Jon Daniels worked with Nolan Ryan. Now, with Ryan gone, so is the human element. Therein lies the key where the Astros may have the ultimate edge.

“I spend so much time personally getting to know our players, and so does our staff,” Luhnow told SI. “There is a perception that anybody who is doing analytics in a serious way is doing that at the expense of the human element. It’s just not true in our case.”

“We realize these are human beings, not widgets,” added Mejdal.

If that is true, then the Astros have one element the Rangers sorely lack now – an element that can indeed allow them to surpass us long-term in this division.

Only time will tell, but you get the feeling from such quotes that the Astros won’t deal off their locker room leaders for a song just because Luhnow doesn’t want Bo Porter playing him. They won’t tender token qualifying deals when their top stars become free agents that they know will be rejected because they view the compensation draft picks more valuable. And when they do give long-term deals to those players, they won’t up and trade them a year later because they’ve given up on them and want the big shiny toy on the market in winter.

The Astros have refused to lure in huge-dollar free agents for the quick fix, but just maybe they’ll treat their developed stars like humans and view them as long-term.

And when those stars involve the likes of Altuve and Springer, while the Rangers are just hoping that Jurickson Profar isn’t going to end up injury prone, Jorge Alfaro can learn to hold onto the ball behind the plate and Nick Tepesch and Martinez aren’t completely broken from having been rushed too soon, that gives reason to worry that this recent sweep by Houston could become the rule and not the exception.

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