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Game #40 Preview: Houston Astros vs. Texas Rangers

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Here’s all you need to know for tonight’s continuation of the 2018 Lone Star Series, which the Astros currently lead 4-3.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros (24-15) vs. Texas Rangers (15-24), May 11, 2018, 7:10 PM CDT

TV: AT&T SportsNet-SW

Radio: KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM

Online: MLB.TV

Rangers SBNation Blog: Lone Star Ball

Vegas Perspective

Open: Astros -250 (71.43%)

Our Model: Astros 68.21%

FiveThirtyEight: Astros 69%

Fangraphs: Astros 66.9%

Tonight is a big one. I don’t care that the Rangers are limping into the game, or that the Rangers are last in the AL West with a 15-24 record.

As an Astros fan residing in Dallas, I still haven’t forgotten that the Rangers were 28-10 against Houston from 2015-2016. Or that the Rangers won 95 games in 2016 with a +8 run differential while the Astros missed the playoffs with a +23 run differential. I haven’t forgotten, because believe me, I heard about it every day during those years.

So now that the tides have turned and one team is light years ahead of the other, it’s only fair that the record would recognize that. The Astros won the Silver Boot decidedly last year, 12-7, but this year that’s not going cut it. Currently, the record is 4-3 Astros, so tonight Hinch needs to hold nothing back. Realistically, the Astros need to be up 16-3 in the series count by the end of the season.

Unleash the bullpen. Forget Trevor Bauer - add more spin-rate. Pull out all the stops to not only win this series, but dominate it. The Astros have been listed at -250 and -230 by Vegas for the first two games of the series and should be a big favorite for the third, so there really are no excuses for this one. Get the job done boys.

Pitching Matchup

RHP Justin Verlander (4-1, 1.17 ERA, 70 SO) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (1-4, 3.94 ERA, 52 SO)

Tonight features a special pitching matchup. One could say that Cole Hamels served as cautionary tale for Justin Verlander, who avoided making Hamels’ same mistake from way back - spurning Houston at the trade deadline. I still cannot figure out why Hamels chose Arlington over Houston, and I’m sure he is having trouble with that decision also at this point.

But... you have to give the guy some credit - Hamels is fighting father time, injuries, and his body on the way to a nice bounce back season, and the Astros will be facing no slouch at the mound.

Despite a drop in velocity, Hamels has revamped his game by adding more movement to his breaking stuff. His curveball is getting far more horizontal movement than ever before, and so far Hamels has a career high strikeout rate at the ripe age of 34. However, Hamels has struggled with the long ball over the past couple of seasons, and playing at Minute Maid will do little to alleviate that.

Verlander has obviously looked as dominant as ever, so all-in-all, it should be a good matchup of grizzled vets who are in the midst of having ‘turn back the clock’ seasons.

Today’s Lineups

Texas Rangers Houston Astros
Texas Rangers Houston Astros
Delino DeShields - CF George Springer - CF
Shin-Soo Choo - DH Jose Altuve - 2B
Nomar Mazara - RF Carlos Correa - SS
Adrian Beltre - 3B Yuli Gurriel - 1B
Joey Gallo - LF Alex Bregman - 3B
Jurickson Profar - SS Marwin Gonzalez - LF
Rougned Odor - 2B Brian McCann - C
Robinson Chirinos - C Evan Gattis - DH
Ronald Guzman - 1B Josh Reddick - RF
Cole Hamels - LHP Justin Verlander - RHP

A.J. Hinch’s decision to place Evan Gattis in the lineup today instead of Max Stassi is certainly a curious one. Gattis’ struggles have been well-documented this season, while Stassi has hit very well against left-handed pitchers to begin 2018.

Additionally, tonight Astros fans will hope that the bats come alive in Minute Maid Park as they have been asleep so far at home. Carlos Correa is particularly struggling at The Juicebox, as the young shortstop currently owns a slash line of .177/.254/.339 in Houston. The fact that Correa is facing Hamels might not help matters at all, as Correa is 2 for 20 with 6 strikeouts in his career so far against the veteran left-hander.

Matchup to Watch: Evan Gattis vs. Cole Hamels

We mentioned it above, but it’s worth saying again, the main questionable decision by A.J. Hinch for tonight’s lineup is including Gattis over Stassi. The career numbers, however, support Hinch’s decision as Gattis has taken Hamels deep 3 times in 29 career ABs and holds a career batting average of .310 against the Rangers ace.

After looking at those numbers, it seems as if tonight should be Gattis’ night to finally break out of a long slump and club a home run or two to jolt himself back to his original numbers. As a career .240 to .260 hitter, there’s simply no way that Gattis’ batting average will be able to stay at .191 for too long. Let’s hope that tonight is the night he finally starts to chip away at that horrendous batting average and on-base percentage.