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W2W4: Rangers-Astros

5/10/2013

Don't look now, the Houston Astros are hot.

Well sort of hot.

On pace to lose 122 games before Tuesday, the Astros won a series this week, taking two out of three games from the struggling Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Houston was on the verge of a sweep Thursday night but blew a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning and lost 6-5 to the Halos.

Here's some storylines to watch for this weekend as the Lone Star Series continues:

1. Rotation changes in H-Town: The Astros overhauled their starting rotation on Wednesday as rookie manager Bo Porter put left-handers Dallas Keuchel and Erik Bedard in the rotation and moved slumping right-hander Philip Humber in the bullpen. Porter admitted that part of the reshuffling has to do with a Rangers' lineup that is stacked with left-handed hitters. Though with catcher A.J. Pierzynski's trip to the 15-day disabled list and David Murphy's prolonged slump, the Rangers' should only have one left-handed batter in the lineup Friday and Saturday, first baseman Mitch Moreland. Keuchel, who makes his first start of the season Friday, is 0-1 with a 4.96 ERA in relief, but did limit the Rangers to a run in five innings in his only other career start last June.

2. Altuve an All-Star: Astros second baseman Jose Altuve looks like a lock to be the Astros' lone All-Star representative. He's fifth in the American League in batting with a .336 average. He has eight doubles and a slugging percentage of .453. He also has 17 RBIs, fourth among Al second basemen behind the Yankees' Robinson Cano (20), the Rangers' Ian Kinsler (20) and Tampa Bay's Kelly Johnson (18).

3. Strikeout kings: The Astros are still running away with the Major League lead in strikeouts with 353. That's 49 more than their closest pursuers, the Atlanta Braves. Houston is averaging just over 10 strikeouts per game. They had 33 Ks in the season-opening series against the Rangers, including 14 by Yu Darvish in his near perfect game. Alexi Ogando is pitching Friday's series opener and he had 10 strikeouts while opening night starter Matt Harrison, who is on the disabled list, had nine strikeouts in the Astros' lone win of the first series.

4. How about Marwin?: Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez broke up Yu Darvish's perfect game bid you might remember with a single under the pitcher's glove with two outs in the bottom of the ninth back on April 2. Gonzalez maintained a strong start for a while but has dipped to .253 for the season and only played in one of three games against the Angels. Gonzalez is 2-for-19 for May with two RBIs. He had his average as high as .321 on April 27.

Rangers domination: The Rangers are 16-4 against the Astros since 2010 and have won six of the last seven games against Houston. It should be a favorable setting for the Rangers at Minute Maid Park with Texas fans sure to turn out for Yu Darvish in droves on Saturday night, hoping for another magical night.