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Series Preview: Houston Astros vs. Texas Rangers, April 19-21 2016

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The battle for the Lone Star State begins.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball started interleague play in 1997. The Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers began to play a six-game home and home series in 2001. The series started as a quaint way for the two team in Texas to play each another. The games added another chapter in rivalries between the cities of Houston and Dallas* (Arlington by extension) in sports.

At first, the rivalry wasn't a rivalry at all. The Astros took home the Silver Boot Trophy only three times over the first 13 years. One could attempt to explain the lopsidedness with the American League's overall success in interleague play, the Astros lack of a No.1 candidate for designated hitter, and the Rangers' powerful offense during the 2000's. But the fact was plain and simple, the Astros haven't been very good for much of the Lone Star Series.

The "rivalry that wasn't" changed again in 2013 when the Astros moved to the American League. Instead of playing just six games against one another, the two teams would have battle one another to make the playoffs. But, the Astros were still bad. So bad that winning the 2014 Silver Boot was arguably the highlight of the season for Houston.

The rivalry became a reality in 2015, whether the teams believe there is one or not. The Astros had a magical start to the 2015 season, but the Rangers closed the season in even more magnificent fashion by overtaking the Astros to claim the division crown.

The 2015 games were marked by a benches-clearing dustupDallas Keuchel yelling former Astros prospect DeLino DeShields to "sit down", and the Rangers take a direct shot at the Astros after winning the division on the final day of the season.

What will the happen in 2016? We'll find soon enough this week.

Starting pitching

Tuesday: RHP Scott Feldman (0-1, 3.48 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) vs. LHP Derek Holland (1-0, 2.31 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)
Wednesday: RHP Doug Fister (1-1, 7.59 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (2-0, 2.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)
Thursday: LHP Dallas Keuchel (2-1, 2.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) vs. RHP A.J. Griffin (1-0, 3.27 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)

Houston will send out the back end of their rotation Scott Feldman, Doug Fister, and finish with the 2015 Cy-Young award winner Dallas Keuchel. While the Rangers' Sunday rainout have a blessing in disguise as the Derek Holland moved from his Sunday start to open the Tuesday series with the Astros.

Former Ranger Scott Feldman gets the ball on Tuesday. Over the past two seasons with the Astros has been a consistent workhorse. He showed that same skill in his last start, holding the World Series Champion Kanas City Royals to two unearned runs over 6 1/3 innings.

In two starts against the Rangers last season, Feldman was 0-2 with a 10.38 ERA and a 2.423 WHIP. Feldman is 16-20 with a 4.27 ERA in 103 career appearances (53 starts) at Globe Life Park.

Derek Holland has dealt with injuries over the past two season: an arthroscopic microfracture in 2014 and a subscapularis muscle strain in 2015. The lack of Holland showed in the Rangers starting pitching quality over the last two seasons.

He has shown what they were missing in the early part of 2016. Holland has allowed just three runs over 11 2/3 innings in his first two starts. Holland is 3-2 with a 4.37 ERA in 10 career starts against Houston. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in three starts against Houston in 2015.

Doug Fister will get his third go-around in game two for Houston. At the moment, the free agent reclamation project appears to be headed to the bullpen when Lance McCullers returns. Fister has allowed 9 runs over 10 2/3 innings to start the season.

Cole Hamels makes his second start against Houston since being traded to the Rangers. Hamels allowed three runs over seven innings in the one start in 2015.

Dallas Keuchel rounded back into form at home, pitching eight scoreless innings against the Tigers. A.J. Griffin stays in the A.L. West, moving from the Oakland Athletics to the Rangers this offseason. He has been a solid pick up so far, allowing four runs over 11 innings of work.

Relief pitching

The Astros bullpen is a mere shadow of its 2014 self and it has gotten even better in 2015. The Astros top setup men Pat Neshek and Will Harris have combined to give up just two earned runs over 10 2/3 innings. Rookie Chris Devenski has pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings in three appearances. Closer Luke Gregerson is four-for-four in save opportunities.

It was ignorant to ignore the poor stats of Tony Sipp, Josh Fields, and Ken Giles. The season is still young for all three. Especially for Giles who currently has a 100% home run-to-flyball rate.

Texas closer Shawn Tolleson is 3-for-4 in save opportunities this young season. Sam Dyson has a 1.42 ERA over six appearances. The Rangers bullpen has the second-worst ERA (5.77) and third-worst batting average against (.277) in the majors. Most of that comes from  Tom Wilhelmsen, who has a 1-1 record with a 22.50 ERA in five games.

Lineup

The Astros offense is clicking heading into the series with the Rangers. Houston has had a player named the AL Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks -- Tyler White and Jose Altuve. Both players are seeing the ball well in the early part of the season. White batting .357 (15x42) with four home runs and 11 RBI. Altuve is batting .314 (15x51) with four doubles, four home runs, eight RBIs, and six stolen bases.

George Springer appears to have come alive in the team's last six games after a slow start. Springer is batting .348 (8x23) with two home runs.On the flip side, Carlos Gomez (.190) and Jason Castro (.167) have slumped to start the season.

Nomar Mazara, Elvis Andrus, and Delino DeShields have started the season strong for the Rangers. Mazara made his debut on April 10 and is batting .444 (12x27) with a home run in his first seven games. Andrus is batting .351 (13x37) with six runs scored and seven RBIs.

DeShields is batting .326 (14x43) with 11 runs scored and two stolen bases. Prince Fielder and Ian Desmond have been sluggish to start the season. Fielder is batting .167 (8x48) with one home run and 11 RBIs. Desmond is batting .109 (5x46) with seven runs scored.

Mitch Moreland, DeShields, Fielder, and Desmond have over 15 strikeouts this season.

Prediction

Dallas Keuchel does enough for one win. The Ranger offense roughs up Fister and Feldman for a Rangers series win.