Preview: Rays face tough test against Astros in Lone Star State

TV: FOX Sports Sun

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 7:30 p.m.


HOUSTON -- After surviving a rash of injuries to their rotation earlier this season, the Houston Astros are now facing roster fluctuations courtesy of maladies to frontline position players.

By virtue of a 13-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, the Astros (68-36) dropped just their second road series of the season. Houston is a pedestrian 8-7 since the All-Star break, and with a pair of All-Stars sidelined -- shortstop Carlos Correa (thumb) and outfielder George Springer (quad) -- the Astros are trudging through the dog days of the season short-handed.

The Astros hope that a return to Minute Maid Park, where they will open a four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night, will provide a bit of an emotional boost.

"We had a winning road trip, there's a lot of positives to come out of it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after Houston went 5-4 through Baltimore, Philadelphia and Detroit. "But we're ready to get home.

"We're not in a good spot right now, we're beat up. We're having to wear it a little bit. There's a lot of guys in there that are battling through a lot of different things. We've got to push our way through this rut."

Astros right-hander Charlie Morton (8-4, 3.83 ERA) will open the series and seven-game homestand. Morton produced his best start of the season in his previous outing, allowing three hits and one walk with nine strikeouts over seven shutout innings in a 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on July 25.

He is 0-2 with a 5.25 ERA in two career starts against the Rays, including a 6-3 loss at Tropicana Field on April 22 when he allowed five runs over five innings.

The Rays (54-52) will counter with right-hander Alex Cobb (9-6, 3.46 ERA), who has produced eight quality starts over his past nine appearances. He has logging 64 1/3 innings while compiling a 5-1 record and a 2.24 ERA during that workhorse stretch.

Cobb is 1-1 with a 3.65 ERA in two career starts against the Astros. He lost to Houston on April 21 after surrendering four runs on nine hits and one walk with seven strikeouts over six innings. The Astros won 6-3 at Tropicana Field.

With their 5-3 road win over the New York Yankees on Sunday, the Rays not only snapped a three-game skid but ended a run of eight losses in 10 games after they climbed to a season-high seven games over .500 on July 18. During the slump, Tampa Bay executed a series of trades to fortify the lineup (first baseman Lucas Duda), strengthen the bullpen (right-handers Sergio Romo and Steve Cishek plus lefty Dan Jennings), and underscore their commitment to pursuing a playoff berth.

"We've done good, and now it's up to us to go win ballgames with these guys and see what happens," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "If there's more (acquisitions at the Monday trading deadline) to come, great. If not, this team is good enough to make a push for playing postseason baseball."