The Texas Rangers went to Houston two weeks ago and swept a three-game series from the Astros, beginning their current hot stretch and keeping them unbeaten in Lone Star State showdowns this season.
Houston has since played its best baseball of the year as they try to catch a Rangers team with the AL's best record, and figuring out how to beat them during this series that begins Monday night in Arlington is its next task.
“We're not going to accomplish our goals unless we can beat the Texas Rangers,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB's official website. “We can't beat them. I don't know what the problem is.
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“I know we have the talent to beat them. We just either psych ourselves out or something happens. Hopefully we'll have more success against them for the rest of the season.”
The Rangers (34-22) have outscored the Astros 29-14 in six meetings this year and have beaten them 10 straight times at Globe Life Park, including a sweep from April 19-21.
“They've controlled our series,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “They've played very well against us. We've played close games against them, we just haven't been able to find a way. We got to play better to beat them.”
Houston (28-30) has lately, going 11-2 since Texas swept them May 20-22. It took all three games from Oakland over the weekend as Evan Gattis homered in each one, including Sunday's 5-2 victory.
The Astros are seven games back of the Rangers, who have won 12 of 15 and took a three-game lead in the AL West over Seattle after sweeping the Mariners over the weekend.
''This team has a lot of personality about it and we have a lot of confidence now,'' Hinch said. ''We're swinging the bats a little better, our pitching is lining up better and so you don't feel that nervous energy when you fall behind anymore. That's what a good month and a half will do for you.''
Houston has won four in a row on the road, but the Rangers have won a franchise record-tying nine consecutive home series. It's unclear how much Texas will use Prince Fielder as it goes for a 10th.
Fielder was benched for the second straight day in Sunday's 3-2 victory. He's hitting .187 – the second-lowest average among qualifiers in the AL – and said he's never gone through this bad of a slump at any point in his career.
Jurickson Profar took Fielder's place at DH on Sunday and is batting .390 while hitting safely in all nine games since being recalled from Triple-A.
“I'm trying to get hits. I'm trying to drive in runs. I'm trying not to get benched for two days, you know?” Fielder said. “I'm just trying to play baseball. I'm not trying to hit homers. I'm just trying to not have this happen again.”
Fielder is 2 for 6 against Mike Fiers, who gets the ball for the Astros. Fiers (3-3, 4.84 ERA) gave up two runs in seven innings of a 2-1 loss to the Rangers on May 21 and has allowed two runs or fewer in four of his last five starts.
The right-hander gave up one run in six innings of Houston's 5-4, 11-inning win over Arizona on Wednesday, bouncing back from allowing seven runs in his previous outing.
Colby Lewis (5-0, 3.09) takes the mound for the Rangers looking to win a fourth straight start. His personal winning streak began when he tossed seven shutout innings to beat the Astros 2-1 on May 20.
The right-hander, who gave up two hits in six scoreless innings of Tuesday's 7-3 win over Cleveland, is 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA in his last 11 against the Astros. Carlos Correa is 5 for 12 with two homes off Lewis, though.