Astros Series Preview: Back to Texas to face Texas.

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 15: Justin Verlander
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 15: Justin Verlander /

Following the series sweep against Oakland, the Astros go back to the comforts of Minute Maid Park to face interstate rival Texas Rangers.

The first place Astros are 24-15 while the Rangers, dead last in the AL West, are 15-24. The Rangers have shown some flashes of success. That said, they have not been able to produce consistently, and their record reflects accordingly.

After playing 13 straight games, going 7-6, the Astros finally had a day off on Thursday. Despite struggling throughout the stretch, it seems that the Astros have finally got back into a groove.

In the past three games, the Astros had a +14 run differential, increasing the series totals to +82. The Astros acquired the lead over the Yankees which is now second in run differential at +66. The Rangers are 27th with a -53. Adding to what Cody said before the Oakland series, the Astros have been scoring runs, and have limited opposing teams offensive production in path of leading the league in ERA (2.60). Never the less, the run support has been spotty and needs more consistency.

Now, the continued battle of ”Lone Star” supremacy, is in Houston. The Astros are the favorites to retain the Silver Boot.

Over a month into the season, the Rangers are nothing more than what experts predicted in 2018. Their interestingly assembled rotation consists of mediocre veterans whose prime years are in their pasts. If they were in 2013 form, they would likely be in contention with the Astros for the best rotation in baseball. But it is not so. The Rangers have ‘band-aided’ over a long-term problem. They assembled a rotation which they hoped could be coached back into an above-par form. Fortunately for the Astros, they have failed to do so.

On the other side of the ball, the Rangers have battled through a plague of injuries. The Rangers had 20 players who saw the DL going into may. Injured players include star shortstop Elvis Andrus (elbow), and third baseman Adrian Beltre (hamstring). At one point in April, the Rangers had four rookies in their lineup. They have shown potential, but now, they are among the lower half of the league in overall performance.

It seems that as years go by, the Astros keep getting better, the Rangers have gotten worse, and the rivalry script has switched.

After getting moved up in the rotation by AJ Hinch to pitch under normal rest, Verlander looks to continue prior success. Verlander needs the Astros to produce more run support, after failing to do so in the past two starts. Verlander is off to the best start in his career, but without any run support, his production is somewhat useless. Morton will be on the mound in game two, hoping to continue to defy odds and dominate through yet another start. After defeating Oakland on Monday, Keuchel will look to add to his hot stretch in the series finale on Sunday.

The Astros offense in the past ten games has averaged, 4.3 runs per game. In that time, the pitching staff averaged only 2.7 runs allowed per game. Unfortunately, the record does not reflect the ten game stretch in which the Astros put up great numbers. The offense has worked to produce runs and improve RISP opportunities consistently. The past three games they have started to show some improvements. When both produce consistently at the anticipated high levels, the Astros will be a pretty tough team to stop.

Here is a great chart, tweeted by AstrosBrain, showing the offensive inconsistencies:

If the run support is more fluid and consistent, it would give way for the pitchers to worry about retaining leads. Had the Astros produced on a consistent basis, they could have been under ten losses.

Last weekend consisted of a mix of ups and downs, ultimately the Astros ended losing two of three to Arizona. On a positive note, they seemed to have turned things around with a sweep in Oakland. If the improvements continue, the Astros should continue to surge.

Next: Astros Minor League Spotlight: J.D. Davis

The Rangers have not been impressive. They have put themselves into poor situations enabling teams to take advantage. A series sweep could be on the horizon, and it would be a great way to head into a tough three-week stretch.

**Statistics and information courtesy of FanGraphs**