McCullers faces Moore as Astros visit Rangers (Mar 31, 2018)

March 31, 2018

Two games into the 2018 season, the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros are dead even and it's difficult to stand before a judge and swear that one team is better than the other.

The Astros and Rangers have split the first two in their four-game, opening-weekend series, with Houston taking the opener 4-1 on Thursday and Texas responding with a 5-1 victory on Friday.

The teams meet on Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. The Astros will send right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (7-4, 4.25 ERA in 2017) to the mound against Texas left-hander Matt Moore (6-15, 5.52 ERA in 2017), a free-agent acquisition.

In Friday's game, Doug Fister, the former Houston pitcher who was acquired by Texas in the offseason, stymied the powerful Astros to just a run and four hits over five innings, in the process outdueling Houston's 1A ace Dallas Keuchel.

Fister got help from a 10-hit attack, keyed by a solo home run by Nomar Mazara, three hits by Shin-Soo Choo and two hits and an RBI each from Joey Gallo and Elvis Andrus.

Mazara's homer off Keuchel was rare, as the Astros' left-hander allowed only three round-trippers to left-handed batters in all of 2017.

Houston had a chance to do some damage in the sixth, loading the bases with two outs off reliever Chris Martin. But Martin struck out designated hitter Evan Gattis before being lifted for Alex Claudio, who fanned pinch hitter J.D. Davis to end the threat.

"We have some different looks we can bring out of the bullpen in those kinds of situations, and they did the job (Friday) by getting some big strikeouts, especially Claudio, with the bases loaded," Texas manager Jeff Banister said. "Obviously this early, we are cautiously optimistic about our bullpen, but we think we have a group of guys that can string some scoreless innings together."

Houston did not get that production. Joe Smith, who relieved Keuchel (three runs, all earned, on seven hits in six innings) struggled in the seventh as Texas added two insurance runs. With the way the Rangers' bullpen was performing, that cushion was more than enough.

"The Rangers won a lot of the big at-bats (Friday)," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said after the loss. "We put a lot of pressure on Fister early by getting some guys on, but we had a hard time completing the innings. I thought Dallas competed well -- he didn't have a lot of balls hit hard off him, but he also didn't finish off hitters early in the game like he usually does."

McCullers is 0-3 in his career versus the Rangers with a 6.26 ERA in five starts.

Moore has gone 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA (3 ER/19.0 IP) over three career starts against the Astros, but has not faced Houston since 2016. It will be just his third career start (including postseason) at Globe Life Park, recording 12 1/3 scoreless innings at this stadium.

The Astros announced Friday that outfielder Kyle Tucker, the team's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, and right-handed pitcher David Paulino will begin the season at Triple-A Fresno.