HOUSTON — After losing two of three to the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, the Houston Astros will enter a three-game series against the Rangers facing the grim reality that another series loss to Texas would snuff out their slim hopes of winning the American League West.
With their 9-5 defeat Sunday night, the Astros (75-68) remained 9 1/2 games behind Texas, which lowered its magic number to win the AL West to 10 games despite losing in Anaheim to the Los Angeles Angels earlier Sunday.
The Astros are 3-13 against the Rangers this season, and even if they match their season series win total, it appears that Houston would only be delaying the inevitable with just 16 games left on the schedule at the conclusion of the Texas series.
The Astros are 3 1/2 games behind AL wild-card co-leaders, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles. However, a total of seven teams are within four games of those wild-card spots.
Astros right-hander Mike Fiers, who took the loss Sunday night, was asked if the club was looking at the standings.
“I don't think so,” he said. “I think we're pretty focused on what we need to do here, and that's why we're in the spot we're at. So we still have a great chance at getting the wild card. So just have to figure out what we need to do and do that out in the field. At the end of the day, we'll see where we're at.”
The Astros will give the ball to right-hander Doug Fister (12-11, 4.14 ERA) for the series opener. Given his recent struggles, and his career-long woes against the Rangers, Fister might be a dubious choice.
Fister is 1-2 with a 4.57 ERA in four starts against the Rangers this season and 5-6 with a 5.18 ERA over 14 career starts against them. After tossing seven shutout innings at the Pirates in Pittsburgh on Aug. 22, Fister has absorbed three consecutive losses, posting a 10.95 ERA while allowing 26 hits and five walks over 12 1/3 innings.
Left-hander Martin Perez (10-10, 4.25 ERA) will start Monday for the Rangers (85-59). Perez is 5-3 with a 2.45 ERA over eight career starts against the Astros, including 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA in two starts against Houston this season.
The Rangers have lost five of eight games following a seven-game winning streak that was snapped in the series finale against the Astros on Sept. 4 in Arlington. Texas did get a measure of good news on Sunday when right-hander Colby Lewis returned from the disabled list and made his first start since late June.
Lewis, who had been sidelined due to a Grade 2 lat strain, gave up three runs — on three solo homers — in 5 1/3 innings.
“It was kind of vintage Colby,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said. “He was able to move the fastball around and use the curveball and the slider to get the outs. Other than the three pitches that went for home runs, he felt like he was in control of what he needed to do. It was nice to see. We're going to need him down the stretch.”
Lewis wasn't as enthusiastic about his performance.
“I didn't make the pitches I needed to make,” he said. “That's all there is to it.”
Reinstating Lewis only deepens the Rangers' veteran-laden rotation, which includes left-handers Cole Hamels and Derek Holland and righties Yu Darvish and A.J. Griffin.