Brian Kersey, Getty Images
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez #10 of the Chicago White Sox (R) chases after Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros after Altuve was picked off trying to steal second base during the seventh inning at U.S. Cellular Field on June 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Justin Maxwell #44 of the Houston Astros was able to score on the play.
On Deck will be here all season to provide you with everything you need to know (and a few things you don't) about every Rangers series during the 2013 season.
The Opponent: There really is no worse team in Major League Baseball than the Astros, who are unabashedly fielding what essentially amounts to a Triple-A lineup, putting all of their hope in the future, which actually looks pretty bright when you consider the wealth of their farm system.
Past 2013 Meetings: The Rangers are 5-1 against their intrastate "rivals" and new division foe, with the lone loss coming on the Opening Night of the 2013 season in a nationally televised game — the Astros' first game as an American League team. Yu Darvish was one out away from perfection a couple of nights later.
Pitching Matchups: Friday — Nick Tepesch (3-6, 4.71 ERA) vs. Lucas Harrell (5-8, 4.59); Saturday — Yu Darvish (8-3, 2.78) vs. Dallas Keuchel (4-5, 4.64); Sunday — Justin Grimm (7-6, 5.84) vs. Erik Bedard (3-4, 4.59).
What's Hot: The Rangers had a big inning on Thursday night in a comeback effort to avoid a series sweep at the hands of Seattle. It was no surprise two of the key cogs to that inning were the Brothers Beltre. OK, they're not really brothers, not even related, but they played a large part starting with Adrian Beltre's second home run of the night and ending with Engel Beltre's pinch-running effort for Lance Berkman. He went first-to-third on a single and then scored on a shallow sac fly from Elvis Andrus, sliding in past the tag of the Mariners' catcher. Over the past seven days, Martin Perez has tossed 12 innings and given up just one unearned run. Not too shabby.
Brett Wallace has been carrying the Astros' lineup over the past week, if you want to call it that. He's hitting .300 with three long balls and six RBIs in that stretch. Bud Norris, the Astros' best pitcher, who the Rangers will avoid this weekend, is 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA in his last 14 innings.
What's Not: The big, bad "winning pieces" of the Rangers' stellar bullpen, minus Joe Nathan, have struggled horribly over the last week — most likely a result of being overworked recently. Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross all have ERAs over 5.00 in the last week. The arrival of Joakim Soria couldn't come soon enough. A.J. Pierzynski and Ian Kinsler have combined to go 5-for-45 over the last week. Yuck.
Where do you start with the Astros? It has to be with arguably their two top hitters who have both gone cold at the same time in second baseman Jose Altuve and catcher/designated hitter Jason Castro. They're a combined 6-for-42 over the last week, which is not a good sign for the Astros' already-anemic offense.
Familiar Faces: The most obvious face here is Lance Berkman's, who spent the majority of his career with the Astros before returning to Texas this off-season to sign with the Rangers. This is the first time the teams have met since Rangers' CEO Nolan Ryan's son Reid has taken over as president of the Astros, meaning there will be a little added heat to the "Silver Boot" rivalry that has been expanded this year with the Astros joining the AL.