First-place Rangers try to extend dominance of Astros

A pair of teams at opposite ends of the American League West standings get together for the third contest in a four-game set Sunday afternoon as the streaking Texas Rangers pay a visit to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Not only have the Rangers won all but one of their nine games so far this month, the club has taken 11 of the last 12 outings overall and is now sitting atop the division, one game ahead of the Oakland Athletics, thanks to a narrow 5-4 win on Saturday.

Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski both had a pair of hits for the Rangers, the latter hitting his 13th home run of the season, while Elvis Andrus tried to offset his three strikeouts by delivering his first home run of 2013 and knocking in a pair of runs.

"It has been a fun ride," said Pierzynski of the team's recent play. "We're playing well. We were playing so bad, it was tough. A lot of guys were frustrated and a lot of guys weren't where they needed to be. But we had a nice meeting in Cleveland, we got some things out in the open and we're just trying to have fun. We lost that feeling, and you've got to have that feeling. That allows your talent to come out rather than trying to force it."

Starting pitcher Derek Holland wasn't around long enough to earn the win for Texas, allowing three runs on six hits and a pair of walks, while striking out six over six innings of work. Instead, it was Jason Frasor with his third win of the year and Joe Nathan closing the door in the ninth to come up with his 34th save.

Houston hurler Brad Peacock permitted just a single run on three hits, but he ended with almost as many walks (four) as strikeouts (five) as he too lasted six innings for an Astros club that has bowed in four straight and eight of the last nine. Lucas Harrell was saddled with the loss, his 13th in 18 decisions on the campaign.

Chris Carter and Jason Castro both posted two hits for the hosts, the former coming up with his 20th home run along the way. Jose Altuve had the only other extra-base hit for the squad, a double, as he knocked in one and scored a run for a Houston team that has by far the fewest wins in baseball (37) and is a distant 29 games out of contention in the standings.

Coming off his first win in nearly a month, pitcher Martin Perez is set to face off against the Astros this afternoon. The left-hander had dropped two of his last four outings before coming out on top against the Angels on Monday in Anaheim.

In that contest Perez permitted just two runs on four hits, but also issued four walks, while striking out seven, over the course of 6 1/3 innings for his fourth win of the campaign.

Now in just his second major league season, the 22-year old is getting his first-ever look at the Astros today.

Fittingly, Houston plans to send out Dallas Keuchel to counter the Rangers in this Lone Star State showdown. Keuchel, who has faced off against Texas three times previously in his career but has yet to record a decision, took part in a wild 15-10 loss against the Boston Red Sox earlier this week.

The left-hander lasted just two-thirds of an inning, giving up four runs on three hits and walk before being ushered out.

With Saturday's win, Texas is not only 9-2 versus the Astros this season, the club is also 35-14 against the rest of the teams in the AL West.