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Friday, August 9, 2013
W2W4: Rangers at Houston Astros

By Todd Wills

HOUSTON -- For the Texas Rangers, there's no time to let up now.

The Rangers, who have made it back into a tie for the America League West lead, have a chance to push their way past Oakland in the standings by again dominating the Houston Astros in a four-game series that starts Friday at Minute Maid Park.

Texas has a pitching edge with Matt Garza, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Yu Darvish slated to pitch against the Astros, who enter the series with a 37-76 record.

Here's what to watch for in Houston:

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Richard Durrett believes that the Rangers are better than the A's and that the Nelson Cruz suspension is a major reason why.

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Keeping the Boot: The Rangers can keep the Silver Boot trophy (awarded to winner of the season series between Texas and Houston) by winning three out of four games from the Astros. It's difficult not to like the Rangers' chances. They are 7-2 against the Astros, winning six of the last seven games. The Rangers are 21-5 against the Astros since the start of the 2010 season. Texas has won the last 11 series against Houston.

Looking at lefties: Houston will throw a left-handed starter against the Rangers in three of the last four games. It starts Friday with Erik Bedard (3-8, 4.29 ERA). Bedard is 0-1 with a 3.68 ERA against the Rangers this season. After right-hander Brad Peacock (1-4, 7.25) on Saturday, the Astros will send out lefties Dallas Keuchel (5-6, 4.96) on Sunday and Brett Olberholtzer (2-0, 2.53) on Monday. Keuchel has made one start against the Rangers this season, allowing two earned runs in five innings.

Battling Astros: Houston nearly won a three-game series from American League East-leader Boston this week. The Astros took the lead into the ninth inning of Wednesday's rubber game, only to have Boston's Stephen Drew hit a three-run home run off new Houston closer Josh Fields for a 7-5 win. The Astros had a lead in all three games. They led 5-0 and 7-3 on Tuesday night before the Red Sox rallied for a 15-10 win at Minute Maid Park.

Sinking bullpen: Houston's bullpen hasn't been the same since closer Jose Veras was traded to the Detroit Tigers. Fields' blown save Wednesday night was the fourth in five opportunities for the Astros' bullpen. Since trading Veras, Houston's relief corps have a 6.58 ERA while allowing five home runs and 19 walks in 26 innings. The Astros are 30-4 when leading entering the ninth inning. The Rangers are 57-1.

Owning the West: The Rangers have obliterated AL West opponents this season. Texas is an MLB-best 33-14 against its division rivals -- including 11 wins in the last 13 games vs. AL West opponents after a road sweep of the Los Angeles Angels. The Rangers are in a stretch of 19 of 22 games against the division. They are 8-1 so far.