Major League Baseball
Astros vs. Rangers: Will ALCS showdown ignite a Lone Star State rivalry?
Major League Baseball

Astros vs. Rangers: Will ALCS showdown ignite a Lone Star State rivalry?

Updated Oct. 15, 2023 11:56 a.m. ET

Sports rivalries are born out of postseason stakes, often made stronger by years of intense playoff battles. It almost feels misleading to refer to the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros as much of a rivalry just yet, despite the hatred shared between their fan bases.  

But, as they get set to meet Sunday (FOX, 8:15 p.m. ET) for the first time in the postseason, it's growing.  

With each dollar invested into the Rangers' pursuit of their first championship, with each win pushing them toward relevance again in a division the Astros have dominated for most of the past seven years, with each incident clearing the benches between the in-state foes — and with more meetings like the ones coming up as the Rangers and Astros face off in the American League Championship Series — the disdain between I-45 foes is gaining traction. 

Until now, the animosity between the teams was based on proximity much more than on-field competition. After original Houston owner Roy Hofheinz helped bring Major League Baseball to Texas with the expansion Colt .45s in 1962, he made every effort to prevent a second team in his state. He resisted when North Texas was in the mix during the 1969 National League expansion, and new teams were instead granted to Montreal and San Diego. Still, Hofheinz's efforts were only temporary. 


In 1972, the Washington Senators moved to Arlington. But with the teams in different leagues, and with both franchises struggling throughout the ‘70s and '80s, it was difficult for hostility to really fester. 

Some fuel would be added in the late '80s, when the Astros tried to get Nolan Ryan to take a pay cut. He refused and signed with the Rangers, where many of the all-time great's achievements — his 5,000th strikeout and 300th win, among them — occurred. Despite playing nine years for the Astros and only five for the Rangers, Ryan was inducted into the Hall of Fame wearing the latter team's cap.

Both franchises retired Ryan's jersey and lay claim to the pitching legend, who would play a role in both club's turnarounds long after his playing days ended, most notably as the Rangers' team president in 2008. During his tenure, the Rangers made their first and only World Series appearances in franchise history in 2010 and 2011. 

He would step down at the end of the 2013 season amid an altering power dynamic in the Texas front office and join the Astros in an advisory role in 2014. The curse of Nolan Ryan began in Arlington for a Rangers team that, until now, hadn't made it back to a championship series since. Houston, meanwhile, would immediately end a nine-year playoff drought, winning a tainted World Series title two years later and beginning its stretch of authority in the American League West. 

Amid all of that, an important shift occurred in the potential for a budding rivalry: The Astros went from the National League Central to the American League West. Before that, meetings between the teams were sparse.  

The 'MLB on FOX' crew discuss Astros-Rangers in the ALCS

Back in 1992, the Rangers beat the Astros in an exhibition and were awarded a Silver Boot for the occasion, but it would take another nine years for the two teams to meet in the regular season. The Lone Star Series was born in 2001, four years after the introduction of interleague play. Twelve years later, the Astros switched leagues, setting the stage for a possible increase in tension.  

It arrived in 2015, when some pleasantries exchanged between Rougned Odor and Hank Conger prompted the two players to come face to face, the benches to clear and managers Jeff Banister and A.J. Hinch to yell at each other while protecting their guys. It was the first sign of what could happen when both teams were finally good at the same time. 

[RELATED: Astros or Rangers? Phillies or Diamondbacks? LCS predictions, 10 burning questions]

Things would heat up again two years later. On April 30, 2017, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman tweeted, then deleted "Opperation #BTSOOTR" (sic) — presumably, he wanted to beat something out of his opponent — ahead of a home matchup against the Rangers. A day later, benches cleared after Houston pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. threw behind Mike Napoli in retaliation for two Astros batters getting hit earlier. Later that year, there was also the Hurricane Harvey incident. McCullers and the Astros were not thrilled that the Rangers didn't want to swap their home series following the disaster, prompting Houston to "host" the Rangers for a series in Florida. 

Ultimately, none of the fracases amounted to much more than yelling, shoving and bickering, and the Rangers began trending the wrong way after the excitement of the early 2010s. That all changed when they began to spend — first on their middle infield two offseasons ago and then on their rotation this offseason. Finally, Texas looked ready to potentially topple the division titans, prompting the heat to turn up between the division foes. 

The two teams were in a tight division battle this July when rising tensions between Marcus Semien and catcher Martín Maldonado reached a boiling point after an Adolis García grand slam, causing both benches to clear. The Rangers won the game, but the Astros still held the clear upper hand this year, winning nine of 13 meetings. The last time the teams met, the Astros outscored the Rangers by 29 over a three-game thrashing in late September, which would have ramifications as October approached. 

Astros advance to seventh straight ALCS and will face Rangers

The Rangers held a 2.5-game lead on an underperforming Houston club at the start of the last week of the regular season. But the Rangers dropped three of four in Seattle to end the year, while the Astros swept in Arizona. Both teams ended the season with 90 wins, with Houston's head-to-head tiebreaker giving the Astros the advantage.

"A lot of people were wondering what it would be like if the ‘Stros didn't win the division," Bregman said as the Astros celebrated their sixth division title in the past six years, one day after the Rangers had clinched a playoff spot. "I guess we'll never know." 

The Rangers have not lost since. 

Their explosive offense, which includes four All-Stars in Semien, Corey Seager, Josh Jung and Jonah Heim, came to life again in October, going 5-0 against the top two teams in the AL East. The Astros, meanwhile, are the only top-two seed remaining in the playoffs, the lone club with a wild-card bye that looked unfazed and unbothered by the layoff the postseason format provided. They hadn't played to their potential this year, but their postseason experience is unmatched among the remaining clubs. 

The Astros are seeking to repeat as champions. The Rangers are looking for their first championship. For the first time in October, they'll be standing in each other's way.

It may take more of these matchups occurring to create a true rivalry. 

But it's brewing.

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and MLB as a whole for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers' editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner. 


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