MLB

Rangers-Astros Preview

The red-hot Texas Rangers have strengthened their grip on the AL West lead by maintaining their dominance in the season series with their in-state rivals.

Now they might not have to face the Houston Astros' top hitter in the second game of this series.

With star second baseman Jose Altuve's status uncertain, the struggling Astros will try to avoid their ninth straight loss to the Rangers on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

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After sweeping last week's four-game series in Arlington to take over first place, Texas (84-69) has now extended its lead to 4 1/2 games following Friday's series-opening 6-2 victory.

The Rangers have won 13 of 17 meetings in the series, including five of seven at Houston. They've also outscored the Astros 59-30 throughout their head-to-head winning streak.

Shin-soo Choo went 3 for 5 with his 19th home run Friday as Texas lowered its magic number to clinch its first West title in four years to five.

''There's no exhale,'' manager Jeff Banister said. ''We're not going to look up until it's done. This is a mission. We're looking for an accomplishment to get to where we want to go.''

Houston (80-74) might not have Altuve as it tries to even this three-game series. He exited in the seventh inning after being hurt in a collision with Carlos Correa while chasing a popup.

''I felt a little dizzy at first, but now I feel good,'' said Altuve, hitting a team-high .314.

The Astros hope to avoid a season high-tying fourth straight home defeat after having their lead on the AL's second wild-card spot cut to a half-game over the Los Angeles Angels.

They're giving the ball to Collin McHugh (17-7, 3.93 ERA), who has a chance to move into a tie with teammate Dallas Keuchel and Seattle's Felix Hernandez for the league lead in wins. Hernandez is scheduled to pitch Saturday night against the Angels.

McHugh allowed five runs over 3 2-3 innings but escaped without a decision in a 6-5 loss at Texas on Sept. 15, before giving up one run over eight in Sunday's 5-1 home win over Oakland.

The right-hander has an MLB-best 16 victories in his last 21 home outings dating to last season. He's been outstanding there lately, going 7-1 with a 1.87 ERA in his last nine starts.

McHugh had a 1.89 ERA while winning his first three starts against the Rangers before last week's meeting. Prince Fielder is 6 for 8 and Adrian Beltre has gone 5 for 9 off him this season.

After going 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in his first four starts following a four-month absence due to a right shoulder strain, Derek Holland (3-3, 4.75) is 0-2 with a 9.00 mark in his last three.

Holland did not get a decision when he opposed McHugh last week, allowing five runs and a season-high 10 hits over 5 2-3 innings. He's 3-2 with a 4.10 ERA in nine starts versus Houston.

"I feel confident that Derek will come out for his next start ready to go," Banister told MLB's official website.

Luis Valbuena accounted for all Houston's scoring Friday with his 23rd home run. The Astros went 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position in their eighth loss in 11 games.

"We have to find a way to do better,'' manager A.J. Hinch said.