HOUSTON — Mired in a prolonged offensive slump, the Houston Astros enter a decisive series against a recent nemesis at precisely the wrong time.
The Astros are 1-9 against the Texas Rangers this season and have lost 17 of the past 20 games in the Lone Star Series. The American League West rivals open a three-game set at Minute Maid Park on Friday.
Houston (56-52) lost for the eighth time in 10 games Thursday night, falling 4-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Astros have scored 21 runs during that span to fall 6 1/2 games behind the Rangers (63-46) in the division.
“When we get a chance to play against a team that's in front of us, that's always an opportunity,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I look at it as we've got to worry about ourselves and playing our brand of baseball no matter if we're playing the Blue Jays, the Rangers, the Twins, Toronto next week. Our schedule is pretty tough the next couple of months, and they're next on the docket.
“I wasn't circling this series as the end all, be all. We've got to play all of our games, but it will be nice to get back in the division and get a look at their new team. They're the team people are chasing, so why wouldn't you want to play them?”
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (6-11, 4.86 ERA) will make his 18th career start against the Rangers, his most against any opponent. Keuchel is 4-7 with a 4.58 ERA in his career against Texas, including 0-3 with a 7.91 ERA in three starts this season.
Keuchel recorded seven consecutive quality starts before getting shelled in Detroit on Sunday, allowing seven runs on seven hits in five innings. That marked his fourth start this season of less than six innings.
The Rangers, who salvaged the series finale against the Baltimore Orioles with a 5-3 victory Thursday night, will turn to left-hander Martin Perez (7-7, 4.22 ERA) in the opener. Perez defeated the Astros 5-3 on June 9, allowing two runs on four hits and four walks with two strikeouts over six innings. He is 5-2 with a 1.88 ERA in seven career starts against Houston.
Texas is working to integrate a pair of deadline-deal acquisitions into its offense: designated hitter Carlos Beltran and catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Rangers traded with the New York Yankees to land Beltran while getting Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers at Monday's non-waiver deadline.
The Rangers recorded a season-high six doubles Thursday as part of their seven extra-base hits, also a season high. It was Lucroy who delivered the non-double extra-base knock, belting his first home run with his new club.
“Any time you have extra-base hits like that, you have guys that can put some numbers up offensively,” Lucroy told MLB.com. “I think any one of these guys in that lineup out there can do that. There's a lot of different weapons and a lot of different ways we can hurt you.”
Texas manager Jeff Banister added, “To get away with this win tonight (in a) close ballgame is (good). Our guys got some nice production up and down the lineup.”