It’s the Battle for the Golden Boot. The Battle of I-45. The Y’all Classic. The sequel to Tombstone, also known as Justin Verlander facing off against Max Scherzer.
The rivalry of the Texas squads that have had nothing but venom towards the opposing side for years are now, finally, facing off in the postseason for the first time in the ALCS since Houston has joined the American League. It’s been a long time coming with two very distinct fan bases that divide the Lone Star State. To preview the rivalry and analyze who has the upper-hand, let’s analyze the squads’ managers, fanbases, offense, and defense using the only logical analysis: with VERY Texas comparisons relevant deep in the heart that if you know, you know.
Bruce Bochy- Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson is the Texas icon that has done it all already; he’s 90, he’s promoting Skechers, he’s in Snoop Dogg commercials, and he’s still touring because he just can’t quit the road life, hence the anthem “On the Road Again.”
Bruce Bochy is 68, was retired in 2019 after winning three World Series titles over the span of six years with the San Francisco Giants, and living the good life. He could have walked into the Hall of Fame if he wanted to.
The man just had to get on the road again.
He came back to manage the Rangers just three years later because he saw the potential in this roster that spent and invested so much and thought they had the potential to win now.
The man notorious for needing the largest hat in the majors specially made for him was a massive factor in managing the rotations of the three vastly different lineups and pitching staffs of the Giants, and his legendary status and veteran leadership has been a large part in creating a crock pot recipe of signed players into a Texas roster ready to win now. He hasn’t had to manage much of the bullpen thus far with the rotation taking over for 6 innings plus practically every outing, but the mindset in the clubhouse alone, him unretiring and instilling the championship expectations, has made the Rangers a ball club serious about winning and improved the morale and confidence of the clubhouse within just one year.
Dusty Baker- Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey goes to Texas Longhorns games to turn around their woes as the Minister of Culture to provide good vibes. Does he do anything aside from look really, cool, say things like “Alright Alright Alright,” or wear burnt orange suits and throw up the hook ‘em sign? Not really, but he’s become synonymous with Texas just by simply being that cool as a legacy since the early Linklater films. He’s brought in in hopes of turning the vibes around so that Texas can, in fact, finally be “back”.
That’s the Dusty Baker cool factor. He’s also a legend, accumulating the most wins by an African-American manager in baseball history and reaching the postseason with five different clubs, and was brought out of retirement to revamp the image of the Astros in 2020 after their cheating scandal as the lovable icon in the game, finally winning a managerial title in 2022.
Dusty has that similar “laissez-faire,” go-with-the-flow approach that McConaughey has; he leaves his pitchers out to learn from mistakes, which, while it is a players-first mentality, has received some pushback from the Houston fans who think they won in spite of his decision-making. He lacks a certain amount of urgency that, while is great for the “Alright, Alright, Alright,” energy, can prove to end up resulting in blunders.
However, you see Dusty roll into the clubhouse with the most swagged-out old school look as the oldest manager to win a World Series in postseason history, it’s just as awesome as a McConaughey smirk on an Austin evening.
Houston- The Whataburger Cult
With the never-ending fast food debate, Texans are willing to die for the orange and white striped W, the “fancy” ketchup that somehow tastes better, or the honey butter chicken biscuit. It doesn’t matter how slow the service may be, it doesn’t matter if In-N-Out may actually get your order right in quicker and more dependable fashion, it’s just misunderstood superiority to a non-Texan
That is exactly the same type of energy that Astros fans have carried themselves with since the trash can travesty that has made them the most-scrutinized club in the majors. The Astros have proven themselves to be much more than just the trash can scandal due to their long-lasting dominance in the AL for the past decade, the World Series title last season without the banging of trash cans to prove their realism, and the reality that many of the faces of that team that was ridiculed is now off the team. They’re misunderstood superiority that scoffs at your mockery of their embarrassing scandal that was relevant for one postseason run. They want to prove to you that they are, in fact, as real and successful as their dynasty actually has been: attempting to shove it in your face with a title every year the same way that a Whataburger fanatic will force their love of the avocado bacon burger in your face. There’s a spiteful energy about it.
Texas- The Chip & Joanna Gaines Disciples
Waco, Texas was a desolate wasteland with nothing but Baylor University, controversy, and nothingness until Chip & Joanna Gaines decided to move in and purchase their way into making it a point of destination, one shiplap mansion, Hobby Lobby phrase-d decoration and cutesy Magnolia interior design at a time. Now, suddenly we’ve all forgotten that it was a desolate land of nothingness before the HGTV money moved in.
The Rangers opened their wallets in that same sort of fashion. Ever since the 2010-2011 World Series losses, they were a wasteland of Rougned Odor punches, embarrassing wild card losses, or losing seasons due to terrible free agent moves, questionable managerial decisions, and irrelevance in a football-obsessed state.
It’s amazing what a summer where you spend a half a billion dollars on an infield of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien and purchase an entire pitching rotation can do.
The mindset of going out and spending their Chip & Joanna HGTV money has put the Rangers back in contention, back into relevance, and the 40,000+ fans are singing something as meme-able as Creed together just because Andrew Heaney has made it a rallying anthem in the locker room. Singing “With Arms Wide Open” in public is the same social equivalent of buying an overpriced cupcake in Waco. It’s amazing what money can do.
The spoils of the authentic accessibility to Tex-Mex in the southwestern promised land, the queso and chips as an appetizer, the fajitas that you can hear the sizzle of from the other side of the restaurant as they make their way to your table, only to be topped off by sopapillas you can drizzle honey over, is an unmatched spoil that favors the Texan. It’s an old reliable within the state border that if you ever dare so boldly as to leave the state, you may end up with salsa that is essentially watered-down ketchup accompanied by “nachos” that utilizes microwaved Velveeta shredded cheese. Upon your return, it’s your staple- your comfort that you know you can count on due to the low-ceiling everywhere else in the world.
That’s a similar way of analyzing this Astros pitching staff; your starts out of Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, the workhorses that have seen it all and done it all on the big stage, then to hand it off to Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly out of the pen, are your constants. Pressly riding a four-game win streak with 5 K’s in two appearances, Abreu being a dominant strikeout presence. They’re the recognizable faces of their postseason thus far that have been the sweet reliant comfort of Tex-Mex.
The rest of the pitching situation, the younger arms lacking that sort of “Verlander” postseason prowess we’ve been accustomed to with the Houston arms of old, pose that sort of gamble of attempting to get Tex-Mex somewhere else. Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, and Hunter Brown have all had flashes, but up-and-down seasons with ERA’s ranging from 4.00-5.00. The management of the non-Verlander, non-Framber starts are all going to come down to Dusty’s decision-making and management with the unpredictability.
However, those starts from the horses are as reliable as coming back home to your Tex-Mex spot that is as dependent as they come after potential disaster.
Texas- The Experience of Going to a Bucee’s
For out-of-towners going to Bucee’s is the most magnificent road trip stop in the world; there’s an abundance of clean bathrooms, ready-made and elite sandwiches, and a magnificent buck-toothed cartoon beaver on the largest amount of gas station food and accessories that you can imagine.
However, to some people it may be seen as a hellscape. There has never been a moment where a Bucee’s doesn’t have at least four different families of 7+ running amuck to buy as many beaver-branded products as possible. Maybe you live near it, where the wonderment and rarity has no effect, therefore it’s merely a gas station creating a speed trap and a terrible parking lot situation comparable to a Grand Theft Auto video game.
That’s the Texas Rangers pitching experience.
Jordan Montgomery has been magnificent since his acquisition at the deadline and Nathan Eovaldi was in Cy Young contention before missing some time due to his injury, but has since bounced back as Nasty Nate has been unbelievable in the postseason on his previous teams- a cult hero in Boston. Montgomery and Eovaldi are the purchases, the beef jerky and beaver nuggets that you’re so allured by as they go over 6 innings a start, that are the reliable quality starts in the pen that have been the story of the rotation; this Texas team’s weakness was the depth aside from those two starters when they hand it off to the bullpen, but that weakness hasn’t had to be exposed yet because of how solid they’ve been.
The rest of the staff is when the magic of the rest stop has worn off and you’re no longer swayed by the giant logo and have to trek through the store and parking lot praying that you keep your life; the Rangers are the first team in postseason history to make the playoffs and have more blown saves than converted saves this year. Aroldis Chapman is the most “eyes on the television” pitcher in baseball because while he throws over 104 mph in some instances, he’s also a historically terrible human being that the internet rallies to root against online in high-leverage situations when he gives up a bomb or two walks in a row. The Rangers got a quality outing from Dunning and Heaney in the start that was not Eovaldi or Montgomery against Baltimore, and the bullpen hasn’t had an opportunity to blow it with the offense humming this much thus far; they’re riding the magic of the Beaver logo and hoping it keeps them distracted of the horrendous reality.
Think about the diversity that comes with the loaded dependable cuisine that is Texas barbecue; there’s a little something for everyone in the cultural fellowship. You can make it extra saucy, sweet, crispy, spicy, chewy, all while taking your pick of brisket, turkey, burnt ends, sausage, chicken; the list is an endless plethora of nothing but foods that pair so well with any side dish of your choice outside in the unbearable heat or a fall cookout.
The Rangers lineup is just as dangerous from the top to the bottom in the diversity in ways of tearing you down; the 1-9 is their own fellowship gathering of good times, listening to Creed in the clubhouse, and smoking not meat, but rather dingers.
Corey Seager and Marcus Semien have proven to be worth every penny as the marquee names in the lineup that could have potentially been MVP candidates if not for a unicorn known as Shohei Ohtani in the AL as well, with Seager being the lead man that drew NINE WALKS in three games. It’s no longer just the stars, though: now Mitch Garver and Adolis Garcia are slugging homers, Heim is hitting from a catcher position where it’s rare to get offensive production, and Evan Carter is 22 and looks like a seasoned veteran at the plate. This is a team that was batting Robbie Grossman in the three hole to now scoring at will in every possible way, and they’ve done it from the beginning of the year. It’s a smorgasbord of smoking hot fire power.
Houston- A Pickup Truck One Would Refer to as “Ol’ Reliable”
You’ll always have the overtly Texan acquaintance that will never depart with their reliable pickup; maybe it’s had so much wear-and-tear from the moments of dependability that they even refer to it as “Ol’ Reliable” from the longevity. Sure, it may be marred by many as a gas-guzzler, but are you ever going to bet against its trustworthiness?
In the same fashion, do you dare to bet against Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, or Alex Bregman in October with how often they’ve achieved greatness for this long?
Advantage: (Yes, I dare to bet against Houston this year, offensively. Naturally, I will be proven wrong when they put up a 10-run game) Texas