Rangers continue winning ways: Lead Astros 2-0 in ALCS

The defending champion Houston Astros have fallen into an 0-2 hole against the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, thanks to a 5-4 Rangers win in Game 2 Monday afternoon. The Rangers, who took Game 1 on Sunday night, were hot out of the gates to start game 2.

Texas scored four first-inning runs and eventually got out to a 5-1 lead before hanging on for a one-run victory. Below are six takeaways from Game 2.

1. Rangers pounce early against Valdez

The Rangers got to work quickly to suck the air out of Minute Maid Park by rallying before the Astros even recorded an out. Through five batters, the Rangers collected five singles and scored three runs. After a strikeout for the first out in the inning, they plated a fourth run with yet another single. 

Jonah Heim hit a home run in the third and this was the extent of the Rangers' scoring in Game 2. Four runs in the first, one in the third and that was it. It was enough for the victory, albeit barely. 

Astros starter Framber Valdez, who was amazing last postseason, struggled again in less than three innings of work.

Dusty Baker is one of the few managers in the postseason who isn't overly aggressive at pulling his starting pitchers. That isn't what happened, here, either. Valdez got beat up. His own defense didn't help his pitching and the bottom line is he just didn't play well enough for his team. 

Valdez exited having allowed five runs on seven hits in his 2 2/3 innings. Four of the five runs were earned, but Valdez was charged with two errors on this play that opened the door to a multi-run Rangers rally in the first. 

Valdez has struggled at home after throwing a no-hitter in early August and we can add another game to that list. In his last five Minute Maid Park starts, he has an 8.53 ERA. 

This was Valdez's fourth playoff start in which he failed to make it out of the third inning, but the other three came in 2021 before he was fully established as a frontline starter. 

2. Astros made Rangers sweat

Despite jumping out to a 4-0 and then 5-1 lead, the Rangers found themselves in a really rough spot late in the game. Yordan Alvarez homered with two outs in the eighth inning to cut the lead to 5-4, spurring Rangers manager Bruce Bochy to go to his closer, José Leclerc. Leclerc then walked the first two batters he faced to create quite the dicey situation. 

Chas McCormick grounded out to third to end the threat, though Rangers third baseman Josh Jung heightened the drama by initially bobbling the ball before catching it with his bare hand and stepping on third to end the threat. 

Leclerc got a 1-2-3 ninth, despite two flies in the vicinity of the warning track. 

3. Rangers playoff winning streak

The Rangers are now 7-0 in the playoffs this season, an even more remarkable streak than it sounds when considering only one of those games was played at home. They've truly been road warriors. They are on the brink of history, too. Here are the longest winning streaks to start the postseason in MLB history. 

1. 2014 Royals: 8 straight wins to begin postseason
t2. 2023 Rangers: 7
t2. 2022 Astros: 7
t2. 2020 Braves: 7
t2. 2007 Rockies: 7
t2. 1976 Reds: 7 (entire postseason)  

4. Eovaldi battles out of jam in fifth

The game had a chance to be completely turned on its head in the bottom of the fifth inning. Michael Brantley and Chas McCormick singled to start the frame against Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi. Then Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña sent a grounder to third that Josh Jung couldn't handle for an error. That meant the bases were loaded with nobody out in a 5-2 Rangers lead. 

It should be noted that at this point, a good number of managers would've pulled the starter. Bruce Bochy elected to stick with Eovaldi and he struck out Yainer Diaz and Jose Altuve before getting Alex Bregman to ground out and end the threat. 

Eovaldi also got in trouble in the sixth inning and allowed a run before working out of it. He ended with three runs allowed on five hits with one walk against nine strikeouts in six innings. 

5. Yordan making home run history

With a two-homer effort in Game 2, Yordan Alvarez -- who has been battling an illness during the ALCS -- now has six home runs in six playoff games this season. This ties Giancarlo Stanton (2020) for the most home runs a player has hit in the postseason through six games. Carlos Beltrán (2004) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1995) hit five homers in their first six games and Juan Gonzalez (1996) hit five in his team's four playoff games. 

6. Astros home woes

After going 39-42 in the regular season at home, the Astros are now 1-3 at home in the playoffs. They were 51-30 on the road in the regular season and went 2-0 in Minnesota in the ALDS. Perhaps the Astros can spin their chances of winning this series as good since three of the possibly five remaining games would come on the road. 

Next up: Game 3 Wednesday

The series shifts to Arlington's Globe Life Park for Game 3 on Wednesday. The Astros need to win four out of the five the rest of the way to avoid elimination. It's an uphill battle. Teams taking a 2-0 lead in the LCS in MLB history have gone 31-4 in the series and the road teams that took a 2-0 series lead are 13-1 (that one came in 2020, at a neutral site, too, when the Dodgers came back to beat the Braves in seven games). 

The matchup appears to be Cristian Javier for the Astros with Max Scherzer getting the ball for the Rangers. Javier had a rough regular season after a breakout 2022 campaign, but he gave up only one hit in five scoreless innings in his ALDS start (he walked five, but struck out nine). He has a career 1.91 playoff ERA. 

It wasn't known if Scherzer would be back for the series, but the Rangers announced his return for this Game 3 start in the afternoon before Game 2. 

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