Astros-Rangers Preview

Lance McCullers must’ve been experiencing flashbacks while watching the Texas Rangers hang a six-spot on teammate Dallas Keuchel in the first inning Wednesday.

McCullers, too, surrendered six first-inning runs the last time he took the mound in Arlington. The major difference is that his Houston Astros were still seven games clear of the Rangers in the AL West following his rough outing Aug. 3.

He’ll face Texas again Thursday night, this time with Houston trailing the first-place Rangers and hoping to prevent a four-game sweep.

McCullers (5-5, 3.10 ERA) had the worst performance of his rookie season the first time he faced Texas, allowing eight of the nine hitters he faced to reach base before being removed in a 12-9 defeat.

The right-hander was sent to the minors for nearly three weeks following that outing, but he’s posted a 2.88 ERA in four starts since returning.

"This is just baseball," McCullers said after allowing two runs in five innings of a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday. "I mean, yeah it’s a little more under the microscope and we’re down the stretch a little bit, but if you try to approach the game different than you’ve been approaching it (the whole season), that’s when things are going to go bad."

Houston’s issues away from home certainly haven’t gotten any better. The Astros (77-69) are tied with Baltimore for the AL’s worst road record at 29-45 after falling to 2-7 on their season-high 10-game trip with Wednesday’s 14-3 defeat, dropping 1 1/2 games behind Texas.

They had been in first place since July 28 before losing Tuesday’s series opener.

"Our guys are very well aware of where we are in the calendar and what we need to do to make things better," manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have some time to correct it and salvage a game tomorrow."

Texas (78-67), meanwhile, has won nine of 10 at home, four in a row overall and six straight against Houston – all in Arlington.

Prince Fielder hit two of the Rangers’ season-high five homers and drove in five runs as his club scored nine times off Keuchel, who entered with the AL’s best ERA.

"We can’t let up now, we’ve still got games to play," said Fielder, 8 for 13 with eight RBIs in this series.

Texas is averaging 9.3 runs during its four-game win streak, but Colby Lewis (15-8, 4.45) didn’t need much support Friday in one of the best starts of his career. He had a perfect game through seven innings and finished with a two-hitter in a 4-0 win over Oakland.

The right-hander dropped his previous three outings with an 8.62 ERA.

"The things that he’s gone through and the resilience that he has, I’ve got to believe, a pretty tough cat," manager Jeff Banister said of Lewis, who set a career high for wins. "I don’t think you’re going to push him around much."

The Astros got to Lewis last month when he opposed McCullers, though. He went six innings but allowed seven runs on a two-run homer to Carlos Correa, a solo shot to Luis Valbuena and a grand slam to Jason Castro. Lewis, though, won that game and is 7-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his last nine starts versus the Astros.

Houston will be without closer Luke Gregerson, who left prior to Wednesday’s contest after his wife went into labor with the couple’s first child. Hinch said Castro could play after missing the last 17 with a right quad strain.