The quickest emotion to crowd its way to most Rangers fans' minds Monday was schadenfreude. The Astros, the team they'd had to watch bring the state of Texas its first World Series championship in 2017, six years after the Rangers gave theirs away, ended up not being so special after all.
Houston's core of precocious young talent, carefully assembled by general manager Jeff Luhnow after a half-decade's worth of 85-plus-loss seasons, had thrived over the last five seasons, in part, because that core of players, including Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and George Springer, had been part of a concerted effort to cheat the game through an elaborate electronic sign-stealing scheme.
That much, thanks to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's report, isn't in dispute. Neither is the fact that Luhnow, Astros manager A.J. Hinch and the Astros organization — which lost its top two picks in the next two drafts and has to pay a $5 million fine — got hit hard. Luhnow and Hinch, both suspended for a year by the league and fired by the team, may never work in baseball again.
There's an invisible asterisk, too, next to the Astros' 2017 world championship, not that many Rangers fans wouldn't make the same devil's bargain, if it meant the 2010 or 2011 seasons ended differently.
The Rangers' I-45 rival's past is tarnished, but judging from initial reactions, it doesn't mean their future is any less bright.
According to some very early 2020 win totals released Tuesday by the sports book at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the Astros can still expect to be in the thick of it this season. Their over/under win total is 97, second-best in the American League to the Yankees and third-best in baseball behind the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Losing Luhnow, Hinch and starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, according to that projection, might have cost Houston, which won 107 games in 2019, about 10 wins.
Those excess wins hanging around the AL West won't be going to the Rangers. According to our friends in the desert, the Rangers, who won 78 games last year, can expect to win a similar number this year. The Rangers' and Astros' division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels, saw their expected win total set at 85.5, which would be a 13-win improvement over 2019.
Thanks to the likes of Correa, Bregman, Altuve and Springer, the Astros, whoever is in a charge, are still going to be good for a while. Missing all those picks isn't going to help their farm system, however, and Luhnow didn't put the team's current roster together by accident. The Rangers aren't going to reap the rewards of Houston's getting busted this season, but the playing field over the rest of the 2020s just got a lot more level.
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