An eternity has seemingly passed since we last saw the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros on the field together. Sure, the calendar shows that a little more than a month has gone by. However, what stood as a two game lead over the rest of the AL West on July 26th not only dwindled away, but has now turned into a one game deficit to the Seattle Mariners and a "virtual tie" with Houston. Now the Astros come to Globe Life Field for a three game set that could very well determine which team finishes the season on top in the standings. So how do the ten games prior to this week break down? Well, you might come away surprised from looking at it.
The Rangers score a lot of runs against Houston
Although Houston holds a 6-4 advantage heading into this series, the Rangers have made a solid showing to date. For starters, Texas has done a much better job of generating runs in their matchups, outscoring the Astros 64 to 54. Surprisingly, most of that damage took place on the road at Minute Maid Park, where Texas has a 42 to 30 advantage. How does that translate to the three games coming up in Arlington?
Runs tend to come at a premium on the road. So, on one hand it looks good for the Rangers that they've outscored Houston on the road. But the fact that Houston has outscored Texas in Arlington sort of negates that way of thinking, especially considering this series' location. But why don't we look beyond the runs to get a little more perspective?
The Rangers hit very well against Houston
Entering play Monday, the Rangers have hit for a combined average of .267. In and of itself, that number looks good, trailing only the Atlanta Braves as the league's best-hitting team. But against the Astros, Texas has upped their game significantly to the tune of a .283 average. On balls in play against Houston, that average raises to a robust .332.
And while they have indeed played more games against Houston than any other team (well, except the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics, who they've also faced 10 times), the Rangers have slugged more home runs against them than against any other team. Of course, the most memorable of those longballs came courtesy of Adolis García in the fifth inning of the final game in Houston.
The Astros have their hits and misses against Texas
In the last month, the most talked-about story of the Rangers has centered around the failures of the bullpen. Notably, the Texas pitching staff has held the Astros to a batting average of just .238. On balls in play, the average raises to .262, but that still doesn't tell the full story.
Houston has also slugged 14 deep balls off the Texas Rangers, tying them for second with the Angels behind the Minnesota Twins. Texas pitchers have also allowed more runs to Houston than any other team they've faced this season. Combined with the points above, this points to some heavyweight-style fighting over the next three days in Arlington.
What to expect
At the end of the day, the Rangers need nothing less than to take all three games from the Astros. While that would win the team the "Silver Boot," the more important reward would come from gaining three games against Houston, putting them solidly behind in the standings and giving the Rangers the season tie breaker. It would also apply significant pressure on Seattle, who heads to "The Queen City" for a showdown with the playoff-hungry Cincinnati Reds.
As it stands, Andrew Heaney will toe the rubber for the opener Monday night against
J.P France. In his only start against the Rangers, France held the lineup to just one run over seven innings for the win. But, Heaney has faced the Astros twice, winning one of them and holding them to an overall average of .173 with 15 Ks in 15 innings.
As of now, manager Bruce Bochy has not named a starter to face Framber Valdez in game two. Valdez pitched decently the first time he took on the Rangers in April but fell victim to four unearned runs. Three months later, he took the brunt of the beatdown in the infamous July 26 game.
For Wednesday night, rumor has it that Nathan Eovaldi will start game three opposite Justin Verlander for the series (and season) finale. This could set up a monstrous final game, especially if the Rangers can eek out wins Monday and Tuesday.
Taking the series would go a long way for the Rangers in their hunt to win the franchise's eighth AL West crown or ninth playoff appearance. And following the momentum from Sunday's dramatic walk-off win, a better time for a sweep does not exist. Realistically though, expect the Rangers to take two of three and move ahead of Houston in the standings.