Though the Texas Rangers have surpassed the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West, it might be a brief stay with Dallas Keuchel awaiting them.
Alone atop the division for the first time this year but facing a stiff challenge, the Rangers can extend their lead with a sixth consecutive victory over the Astros on Wednesday night.
Despite blowing an early 4-0 lead, Texas (77-67) persevered to win 6-5 on Mitch Moreland's sacrifice fly in the ninth inning Tuesday. The Rangers, who shared the West lead April 11, hold a one-half game advantage over Houston (77-68).
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Texas has won 22 of 32 overall and 20 of 25 at home.
"They have fought, scratched, clawed all ways imaginable to get to this point," said manager Jeff Banister, whose club was eight games out of first on Aug.1. "We're not done yet. Still got a long ways to go."
The Astros, who had been in first place since July 28, have dropped 11 of 17 and are 2-6 on a 10-game road trip.
"This is really intense baseball," manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's fun to do it; it's not fun to lose."
Losers in 10 of 14 in the season series, Houston has dropped five in a row to the Rangers - all in Arlington - since Keuchel (17-7, 2.22 ERA) allowed two hits and struck out a career-high 13 over seven innings of a 10-0 victory July 19. The left-hander is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in three starts against Texas this season.
"He's crafty," said Texas rookie Delino DeShields, who is 1 for 6 with a double against Keuchel.
Rangers fans could let Keuchel hear it after he yelled for DeShields to "sit down" when the outfielder stood at home plate with his back to the mound after striking out in that contest. Following that game, Keuchel also called out Texas infielder Rougned Odor for what he felt was disrespecting the Astros a day earlier by taking too long to get into the batter's box during one at-bat and for a hard slide into All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve.
Any jeering likely won't rattle Keuchel, whose three-start winning streak ended with a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday when he allowed three unearned runs in six innings.
"It's rare to watch him struggle with his command a little bit, but this guy competes as good as anybody," Hinch said.
Adrian Beltre is 1 for 9 against Keuchel this season but had four hits Tuesday, and he's 9 for 19 with seven RBIs in the last four games. He's hitting .355 against the Astros this year while Prince Fielder is at .356, including 3 for 10 with two doubles off Keuchel.
Texas' Martin Perez (2-5, 5.43) is 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his last three starts at home but has lost on the road in his two outings this month, allowing eight runs and walking seven in 11 innings.
The left-hander made his return from elbow surgery July 17 at Houston when he gave up three runs and nine hits in five innings of a 3-2 defeat. He had won his three previous starts against the Astros behind a 1.50 ERA.
Altuve is 5 for 12 with three doubles against Perez.