Astros, Rangers continue series in Florida with hearts in Texas

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Playing so far from home, with extensive flooding still covering much of Houston, it would be easy for the Astros to be distracted as they play a three-game series against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

However, Astros manager A.J. Hinch is finding his players focused throughout an emotional and difficult week, refusing to let the understandable distraction be an excuse.

"We've had a long couple of days, but it is what it is," Hinch said after Houston's 12-2 loss to Texas on Tuesday. "We've had this on our minds for a few days. We beat the Angels two out of three. This club can handle it. … These guys are real pros, and they can compete."

Texas brought its bats to Tropicana Field, amassing 14 hits in the series opener Tuesday. Still, manager Jeff Banister said it was understandable that players from both teams would have their minds elsewhere, with so much of the nation's attention on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and its impact on so many in Houston and the surrounding areas.

"For all parties involved, heavy hearts for what's going on back at home, and for these guys, a little bit of the unknown with some of their families," Banister said. "We wanted to go out and put together the best game we possibly could with a lot of energy, and I felt like both teams did that."

Houston will hope for a boost Wednesday from one of baseball's best, lefty Dallas Keuchel, who comes in with an 11-2 record and a 2.58 ERA.

Against Texas, he is fairly ordinary in his career -- a 7-7 record and a 3.91 ERA in 20 career starts -- but this year, he has dominated the Rangers. In two starts vs. Texas, he has allowed one earned run in 12 2/3 innings, good for a 0.71 ERA with seven strikeouts in each outing.

Texas counters with right-hander Andrew Cashner, who has a hard-luck 7-9 record despite a 3.44 ERA. He has been sharp of late, producing a 4-2 mark and a 2.81 ERA in his past eight starts. Cashner has struggled against Houston in his career, going 2-6 with a 4.53 ERA in 14 games, including six starts.

Cashner has already faced Houston four times this year, going 0-4 with a 5.09 ERA, though two of those outings were quality starts. Houston hitters are batting .309 against him this season. He pitched well at Tropicana Field on July 22, earning the win as Texas beat Tampa Bay 4-3.

The Wednesday game will have a national ESPN audience, bringing more attention to the terrible tragedy still unfolding in Houston. Both teams will try to find some solace in another baseball game, though their thoughts will remain elsewhere

"You've got to believe there are still moments in a game, with all the things that have gone on, still so fresh and raw, you quite possibly could get caught in some of the down moments of this game, thinking about what's going on in Houston and in Texas," Banister said. "These guys do life every day, but not to this magnitude. Everybody that's involved, they're human beings first. When you get to this level, you have to put those things out of your mind and concentrate on what you have to do, and that's play the game of baseball."