Fresh off a 14-0 drubbing of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Astros will look to make some headway in the AL West as they head to Globe Life Field for a four-game stand against the AL West leading Texas Rangers.
The Astros enter the series five games back in the West. It's been years since the Lone Star Series has had any semebelance of magnitude. From 2012-2014, the Rangers were a force in the AL while the Astros were a doormat. 2015 and 2016 were relatively competitive, but as the Astros rose to prominence with their Golden Era, the Rangers fell off the map.
Over the past two offseasons, the Rangers have spent big and rebuilt their roster while the Astros have remained contenders. Seasons aren't made in June and early July, but this series is of vital importance.
If the Astros can take at least three of the four games, they'll find themselves only three games back with the returns of Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley on the horizon. If Texas wins the series, they'll have control of the West, and with the balanced schedule the MLB rolled out this year, they'll have only six head-to-head matchups remaining to make up ground.
Ronel Blanco takes the hill for the Astros tonight against Jon Gray. The matchup definitely favors Texas, as Gray is 6-3 with a 2.89 ERA and Blanco takes a 4.70 ERA as a starter into his fifth consecutive start.
Hunter Brown faces off against the Rangers ace, Nathan Eovaldi, tomorrow. Eovaldi is 9-3 with a 2.82 ERA this season, but has been much more gettable in June than he was in May. He holds a 3.77 ERA this month amidst a drop in velocity he attributed to a mechanical flaw.
Sunday and Monday should favor the Astros on paper. Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier are in line to throw the two contests, but Dusty Baker has announced neither as starting. Baker conceded that Javier has not been himself, but it remains to be seen if the Astros would skip Javier's turn in the rotation.
As many have pointed out, Javier's release angle has changed, limiting his velocity and dropping his AAV on his fastball, previously an un-hittable pitch. It remains to be seen if this is simply a result of fatigue from throwing a career high in innings before jumping into the WBC and then right back into regular season action. Maybe a reset in the rotation is all Javier needs.
If Houston does go with their normal rotation and gets the Valdez and Javier they are accustomed to, the series should at worst be a split.