Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends...The endless struggle between the Lone Star State's two largest cities continues on the baseball field. The Houston Astros (17-25) look to rebound against the Texas Rangers (22-19) after the Rangers took the first three games of 2016 in Arlington with a sweep.
The Astros are still in last place in the AL West, seven-game back from the division-leading Mariners. The Rangers are in second place with 1.5 games back in the west. Four of the five teams in the west have gone 5-5 in their last ten games -- expect for the Angels who were 6-4. The Astros have a chance to make some end roads into the standings if the team can return the favor to the Rangers with a sweep.
Texas is stumbling into Houston having been swept by the Athletics in Oakland -- the Rangers were outscored 19-7 during the series.
The Astros are 10-10 at home this season and 63-38 at Minute Maid Park over the last two season combined -- second best during that time period in the AL West behind the Royals (64-37).
Friday: RHP Lance McCullers (0-0, 9.64 ERA, 2.14 WHIP) vs. RHP Colby Lewis (2-0, 3.12 .1.17 WHIP)
Saturday: RHP Mike Fiers (3-1, 4.63 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) vs. LHP Cesar Ramos (0-2, 4.32 ERA, 1.80 WHIP)
Sunday: LHP Dallas Keuchel (2-5, 5.43 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (4-0, 3.10 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
The Astros send out a sharp threesome for the Rangers -- at least sharp for 2015 standards. Lance McCullers made his first start of the 2016 season. He pitched 4 2/3 innings against the Red Sox, allowing five runs on seven hits or three walks.
Boston was a tough place test to start for McCullers, but it won't get much better with the Rangers. McCullers blew up against the Rangers back in August, allowing six runs on seven hits over 1/3 of an innings -- before being sent down to keep his inning down.
McCullers rebounded after that start to post a quality start in September against the Rangers. It will be interesting to see which McCullers come out against Texas. Current Rangers are batting .500 (11x22) against McCullers with .563 BABIP, 11.64 FIP, 16.0 K%, and a 12.0 BB%.
On the other side of McCullers is Colby Lewis. Lewis has arguably the Rangers' best pitcher over his last four starts. He is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in during that stretch. He was 4-0 with a 4.15 ERA in five starts against the Astros last season. He missed the Astros the first go around this season.
Current Astros are batting .260 (34x131) against Lewis. with a .284 BABIP, 4.41 FIP, 21.8 K%, and a 21.8 BB%.
The Astros have been able to be very flexible with their rotation and bullpen with six stable option in the rotation. Mike Fiers proved that by coming out of the pen in the Boston series -- that said he did give up two runs over four innings in his one outing.
Before that relief appearance, Fiers put everything together against the Indians. He allowed just one run on three hits over seven innings in the outing. As a starter this season, Fiers is 3-1 with a 4.65 ERA in seven starts.
Fiers only faced the Rangers once during 2015 while with the Astros, it was his first outing with Houston. Fiers allowed six runs on seven hits over five innings of relief -- it is his only career appearance against Texas.
Cesar Ramos has replaced the injured A.J. Griffin in the Rangers rotation. Ramos is 0-1 with a 3.48 ERA with a 1.94 WHIP In two starts with the Rangers.
The best matchup on paper is Sunday's game: Dallas Keuchel vs. Cole Hamels. Keuchel is 0-4 with a 7.32 ERA in his last six starts. Hamels has allowed six runs over his last 12 1/3 innings.
The Astros closer Luke Gregson has struggled in his few saves chances. He has blown two of his last four save chances. He has allowed two runs on four hits. In both blow saves, Gregerson appeared to make his pitch but the Red Sox went down and got the pitch.
Pat Neshek, Will Harris, and Ken Giles have been lights out. The Astros top three setup man have combined to pitch 9 2/3 scoreless innings.
Sam Dyson has replaced Shawn Tolleson as the Rangers closer this week. Tolleson blew both save chances this week and he has allowed seven runs over his last 1 1/3 innings. Dyson, on the other hand, has pitched two scoreless innings during that time.
Jose Altuve is Jose Altuveing. Altuve is batting .458 (11x24) with six runs scored and four RBIs in his last six games. Tyler White is coming around after a slump, he is batting .417 (4x11) with two home runs in his last four games. Jason Castro is still hot at the plate, he is batting .353 (6x17) in his last five games.
Luis Valbuena (.190), Jake Marsinick (.176), and Marwin Gonzalez (.167) have struggled over the team's last six games. That maybe why the Astros have called up prospects Tony Kemp and Colin Moran.
Free agent pickup Ian desmond continues to pay off of the Rangers this season, he is batting .346 (9x26) with three runs scored, one double, two home runs and six RBIs in his last six games. Elvis Andrus is batting .333 (5x15) over his last five games.
Rougned Odor is struggling mightily over his last seven games. Odor is batting .129 (4x31) with three runs scored, no walks, and four strikeouts.
Astros have been moving in the right direction minus the Red Sox series. Houston wins two of three from the Rangers. Keuchel gets back on the horse on Sunday.
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