The Houston Astros are helping themselves avoid another last-place finish with their dominance over their scuffling rivals, the Texas Rangers.
Houston will try to conclude its three-game home series with an eighth consecutive win over the Rangers, and the Astros are hoping major league hits leader Jose Altuve can return from a sore neck Sunday.Houston (49-68) moved 3 1/2 games ahead of last-place Texas (45-71) in the AL West with an 8-3 victory Saturday. Jon Singleton drove in three runs for an Astros team that was also playing without slugging rookie George Springer, who has 20 homers in 78 games.After re-aggravating his injured quad during a rehab assignment, Springer's timetable for returning is unknown. Manager Bo Porter was more optimistic for Altuve, who left after five innings in Friday's 4-3 win over Texas."Obviously, he's a little sore from the discomfort, but he's actually better than he was (Friday), so we're going to give him the day and hopefully by (Sunday) it's behind him," Porter told MLB's official website.Should he return, Altuve, who has 158 hits and is batting .333, will try to add to Nick Martinez's woes. The Texas right-hander is 0-7 with a 7.48 ERA in his last 10 starts and has allowed a combined 11 runs in his last two.Martinez (1-8, 5.31 ERA) gave up five runs in five innings Monday in a 5-3 road loss to the Chicago White Sox."He's got stuff, man," manager Ron Washington said. "He's just got to learn how to use it. He's got to learn how to minimize damage. When he learns how to take that deep breath, buckle down and minimize damage, he's going to move forward."Martinez will make his first start against Houston, winners in a season-best five straight at home. The Astros' last six-game home win streak was from April 22-May 5, 2012.Dallas Keuchel (10-7, 2.89) could help them match that streak if he can continue his string of stellar outings.He has yielded two earned runs in his last three starts, spanning 23 innings. Keuchel registered his AL-best fourth complete game in an 8-1 win over Oakland on July 30 but didn't get enough support for another victory Tuesday in Philadelphia.Keuchel gave up one run over seven innings in a 2-1 loss in 15."We just couldn't get the offense going. Keuchel was really on his game," Porter said.Keuchel is 3-2 with a 1.15 ERA in his last five starts at Minute Maid Park and has two complete games. He's 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA in two matchups with Texas this season and recorded his only career shutout May 13 against the Rangers, losers in 36 of 46 and 22 of 27 on the road.The left-hander scattered seven hits, walked none and fanned seven in an 8-0 home victory.Alex Rios, 5 for 15 with two doubles in his career against Keuchel, is expected to return to the lineup Sunday. Rios, batting .293 and second on the team with 45 RBIs, missed two games with a sprained right ankle."He's playing tomorrow. No questions about it," Washington told MLB's official website.
Alex Rios' 64 hits in at-bats to end on a pitch in the lower-third of the zone or below rank as the fifth most in baseball. Dallas Keuchel has thrown the fourth-highest percentage of pitches in that zone this season (56.5 percent).