Bragging rights usually were at stake in past years when the Houston Astros would meet the Texas Rangers.
There's much more on the line this time.
The biggest series in the history of this rivalry gets underway Monday night in Arlington, where the charging Rangers attempt to cut into the Astros' slim lead atop the AL West.
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Texas (75-67) trailed Houston (77-66) by eight games before a three-game sweep of their Lone Star State rivals at Globe Life Park in early August began a 24-14 stretch that has pulled the Rangers within 1 1/2. The Astros, who have held at least a share of first place since July 28, are 17-20 over that same span.
"Obviously, we want to face the team that is in front of us," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We're looking forward to getting our chance to climb up to where we want to be."
The margin would have been further reduced if not for Houston's improbable rally Sunday in Anaheim, where it scored five times with two outs in the ninth inning for a 5-3 victory over the Angels. Preston Tucker's homer was the first of five straight hits off Huston Street, capped by Jed Lowrie's pinch-hit three-run shot.
"It's about as dramatic of a momentum shift or comeback as you're going to see," Lowrie said. "But what's made this team great all year is that we've literally fought to the last pitch."
Texas kept pace by matching a season high with four homers, including two by Beltre, in a 12-4 rout of Oakland. Shin-Soo Choo added a two-run blast and finished 3 for 4 with three runs scored.
The Astros, second in the majors with 195 homers, have hit nine in four games and 17 over their last nine, with Lowrie launching three in his past eight. Carlos Gomez has two on this road trip but was scratched from Sunday's lineup with a sore left side.
That level of proficiency will be tested by Cole Hamels (3-1, 4.07), who hasn't allowed a homer in five straight starts after permitting five in his first two with Texas.
The Rangers have prevailed in each of those previous five outings, including Tuesday's 9-6 triumph at Seattle in which Hamels surrendered four runs in seven innings to win a third consecutive decision.
Hamels hasn't faced Houston since a 12-6 win while with Philadelphia on Sept. 14, 2012 - his only victory in his past six meetings with the Astros. The key trade deadline pickup is 1-3 with a 6.31 ERA over that span.
He'll have to be careful with Evan Gattis, who's 3 for 9 with two homers against him.
While Hamels has been stingy with the long ball, Scott Kazmir (7-10, 2.63) has allowed seven in 40 innings while going 1-5 with a 4.28 ERA over a seven-start stretch. The fellow midseason acquisition was reached for two homers and four runs in six innings of Tuesday's 4-0 loss to his former Oakland team.
Kazmir also has lost four straight road starts, a sequence that began with a 4-3 defeat at Texas on Aug. 5. He allowed just one earned run in 5 2-3 innings, however, and is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA in four season matchups with Texas.
Choo is 7 for 22 with a homer against Kazmir, but Beltre (1 for 8 this season) and Prince Fielder (2 for 18 career) have struggled, though Fielder homered off him May 1 in Arlington.
Houston, 29-42 on the road and 2-4 on this 10-game trip, is 7-20 at Globe Life Park since 2012 and has lost 11 of its last 15 overall against Texas. The Rangers are 8-4 in the season series.