A season full of intrigue and questions surrounding the Texas Rangers will start off by welcoming in the reigning World Series Champs, Houston Astros, to Arlington.
First pitch is scheduled for 2:35pm CT and begins a series that was owned by the Astros 12-7 last season despite the Rangers 15-4 domination the previous year.
Some added tension will be added to this year’s in-state rivalry because of the situation between the two teams last year as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
Texas was scheduled to play in Houston, a few days following the storms devastation of the gulf coast. Houston requested to switch that home series with one later in the season and play the games at Globe Life Park.
The Rangers organization declined to switch series due to a tight race for the final American League Wild Card spot and wanted the home field advantage later in the season.
The series was then played in Tropicana Field where the Rangers won 2 of the 3 games. They then dropped all three games in that later home series to Houston in emphatic history 11-2, 14-3, and 12-2.
Houston then went on to win the World Series in seven games over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first championship in franchise history.
This will be the first meeting between the two rivals since that horrendous series in September, and Texas has to win a few games at home if they want to be taken seriously in a strong AL West.
Taking a look at the probable starter for this weekend, Houston has the advantage on paper. As expected.
Thursday – Cole Hamels LHP vs Justin Verlander RHP
Out of 747 combined career starts, this is the first time these two have ever faced each other.
Verlander last season after being acquired from Detroit, went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in the regular season and was 4-1 in six postseason appearances in the remarkable title run for Houston.
Hamels on the other hand will be making his fourth career opening day start and is undoubtedly the top pitcher in a thin rotation for Texas.
Friday – Doug Fister RHP vs Dallas Keuchel LHP
A matchup between two former Astro teammates, this may be the most intriguing matchup of the series. However, probably the one that favors the Astros the most.
The Rangers coaching staff is really high on what they’ve seen from the 34-year-old right hander, despite some mediocre numbers in spring training.
In 2016, the year after Keuchel won his Cy Young Award, Fister was 12-13 for Houston with a 4.62 ERA in 32 games. Fister actually had better numbers that year than Keuchel, including three more wins.
However, Keuchel was back to his old self last season with a 14-5 mark with an ERA of 2.90.
Texas is a lineup that tends to struggle against left-handed pitchers and traditionally struggles against Dallas Keuchel as well so this could be a tough one for the Rangers to steal.
Saturday – Matt Moore LHP vs Lance McCullers Jr RHP
Matt Moore, the aging and injury-prone lefty could be a wild card in the Rangers Rotation and could work his way into being the second starter sometime this season if all goes well.
If one thing is encouraging this weekend is that Texas hits better against right handers last season with a .248 batting average as a team. Also, the current Rangers on the roster have hit well against McCullers in the past with a .311 combined average over 61 at-bats.
Elvis Andrus has had an extreme amount of success against McCullers Jr in the past with 6 hits in 11 at-bats and 4 RBIs to go with it. If Andrus can have a big day from the top of the order, and maybe get a couple big hack this could be the game Texas takes.
The biggest thing regarding what should be a strong lineup for Texas is who will make take the leap from being a young talent, and find a way to hit Astros pitching? With the emphasis on hitting the breaking ball.
Rougned Odor, who once looked like that individual, took a step back in 2017 hitting .204 with 30 HR and 75 RBI. He will hit in the 8-spot in the lineup on opening day and will undoubtedly see more fastballs in the bottom half of the lineup.
Joey Gallo is another young hitter that’s been downright horrendous at hitting the breaking pitch over the beginning of his career. He did show some improvement over the spring but still struggled with strike outs (11 Ks in 59 PA). Gallo will hit in the 2-hole on opening day.
If Texas is going to get to one of the three Astros starters, they will need the young power hitters to dial back the pop and be disciplined at the plate. Or else those breaking balls will carve up that Rangers lineup like a knife through brisket deep in the heart of Texas.
For more Texas Rangers coverage follow the Dallas Sports Fanatic on Twitter at @Dallas_Fanatic and my personal Twitter at @Kyle_Youmans.
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