Astros: Previewing three-game home series against Rangers

Here’s what you need to know about the Houston Astros series against the Texas Rangers.

After a dismal 2-9 road trip, the Astros have finally returned to the friendly and relatively smoke-free confines of Houston. As they attempt to regain their footing and hold on to a playoff spot, they welcome the last-place Texas Rangers to town.

The Astros are clinging to a 1.5-game lead over the third-place Mariners, and that lead is important. Oakland has basically wrapped up the AL West title this year, but with the expanded playoffs, the second-place teams will be getting to the postseason as well. Houston just has to keep ahead of Seattle and they’re in.

The Rangers are already out of the picture, sitting at 17-30 on the year. Frankly, it would take a miracle run for them to get into the postseason. It helps that the Astros are 16-6 at home this season while the Rangers are 4-17 on the road. This all adds up to a recipe for what should be a bounceback series for Houston.

Tonight’s opener will begin at 7:10 p.m. CT, as will Wednesday’s game. Thursday’s finale will take place at 6:10 p.m. All three games will be broadcast locally on ATT SportsNet SW.

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Pitching Matchups

Jose Urquidy will take the mound tonight against rookie righthander Kyle Cody. Urquidy has a 3.72 ERA in two starts this year and gave up two runs in six innings against the A’s in his last outing. In two starts and three relief appearances, Cody is 0-1 with a 0.93 ERA, having allowed one run in 2.1 innings in his last start against the Angels.

Wednesday’s game will see the return of Lance McCullers Jr. as he faces off against Kyle Gibson. McCullers is 3-2 with a 5.79 ERA this year and will be making his first appearance since Sept. 4 when he left his start after recording no outs. Gibson is 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA this season and allowed five runs on 10 hits in 5.2 innings against the Angels last time out.

Thursday’s finale will have Framber Valdez pitching against Jordan Lyles. Valdez is 3-3 with a 4.08 ERA on the year but has allowed 13 earned runs in 12 innings over his last two starts. Lyles is 1-4 with a 7.80 ERA this season and allowed five runs in seven innings against Oakland in his last outing, which came behind an opener.

Players to Watch

For the Rangers, keep an eye on Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The former catcher, who’s now playing third base, is leading the team in batting average (.321), on-base percentage (.366) and OPS (.773). This is a team that struggles on offense, but this is their toughest out.

For the Astros, I’m watching Kyle Tucker. He was given the day off on Sunday after enduring a rough few games at the plate, so we’ll see if he bounces back this week. He’s shown he can carry the team when he’s hot, but he’s also proven to be rather streaky.

Astros Expectations

A couple of weeks ago I might have said a sweep would be possible, but at this point I think that’s being a little ambitious. The Astros struggled mightily over the past week and a half, so they’re trying to find their footing again.

With that being said, the expectation should be to take two out of three. The Rangers are a last-place team for a reason, and the third-place Mariners are breathing down the Astros’ necks. If this team has any intention of making the playoffs, they have to beat the bottom dwellers down the stretch.