It's likely going to be another losing season for the Houston Astros, but the stunning free fall of the Texas Rangers has provided them an opportunity to be the best team in the Lone Star State this year and a possible escape from the AL West cellar.
Brett Oberholtzer looks to keep the Astros on those paths as these also-rans open a three-game series Friday night.
Since the teams began play as interleague opponents in 2001, the Astros (47-68) have won the Lone Star series only three times - the last coming in 2006. The series tilted heavily in Texas' favor of late as the Rangers went 19-5 from 2009-12.
When the teams became division rivals last year, the Rangers pounded them mercilessly - winning 17 of 19 while outscoring them 126-69 as the Astros endured a third straight 100-loss season. This season, however, the tables have finally turned as Texas languishes behind Houston in last place and has won only three of the first nine games between the teams.
In this backdrop, Oberholtzer (4-7, 4.17 ERA) seeks to win a career-high third straight start and snap Houston's three-game losing streak after being swept at Philadelphia. The left-hander limited Toronto to two runs in seven innings of an 8-2 victory Thursday, improving to 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in his last five starts at Minute Maid Park.
''To see him be able to not only make those pitches but make them with confidence, lets me know that he has taken a huge step forward as a major leaguer,'' Astros manager Bo Porter said of Oberholtzer, who lost his only career start against Texas last season.
Chris Carter, who hit two home runs in Thursday's 6-5 loss, has a major league-leading 11 of his 24 homers since July 1. While he's batting .225 overall, Carter is hitting .324 with two homers versus Texas this year.
Astros rookie outfielder George Springer will work out pre-game before the team decides whether to activate him from the disabled list. He has been sidelined since July 20 with a strained left quadriceps and left the last of his three games at Class-A Quad Cities on Wednesday after aggravating the injury.
Despite its struggles, Texas (45-69) has a chance for its first three-game win streak since June 11-14 as Miles Mikolas (1-4, 7.29) takes the mound. The right-hander pitched well Saturday at Cleveland - conceding two runs and five hits in seven innings - but got no support in the 2-0 defeat.
''Everything is starting to come together for me,'' said Mikolas, who has lasted seven or more innings in two of his last three starts. ''I'm starting to throw strikes and a big thing was getting my curve over. ... it's all about location, not power sometimes.''
One of Houston's six wins came at Mikolas' expense July 7, when the Astros tagged him for nine runs and 12 hits in 3 1-3 innings of a 12-7 victory.
Adrian Beltre has been a bright spot for the Rangers against the Astros this year, going 11 for 27 with six extra-base hits and six RBIs in six games. He has especially tormented the Astros since they joined the AL, hitting .374 with eight homers, 10 doubles and 21 RBIs in 25 games.
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