HOUSTON -- Logic dictates that the Astros, the reigning World Series champions, will resolve their scoring woes at home, or at least close the gap between the productivity and success they enjoy on the road compared to what has transpired thus far at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros (24-15) on Wednesday capped a three-game series sweep of the Oakland Athletics with a 4-1 victory and concluded a six-game road trip with a 4-2 mark. Even while dropping two of three games at Arizona, the Astros outscored the Diamondbacks 12-7. Houston is 14-6 on the road this season, with a run differential (plus-73) equal to its run total over 19 home games.
The Astros, set to host the Texas Rangers for a three-game weekend series beginning on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, are averaging just 3.8 runs at home compared to 5.9 on the road. Central to their scoring woes at Minute Maid Park is a lineup bereft of balance, with the Astros lacking production at designated hitter -- Evan Gattis owns an adjusted OPS of 53 -- and from two of their four primary outfielders. Jake Marisnick will carry a 26 OPS+ over 82 plate appearances into the weekend; Derek Fisher has caught fire of late and bumped his OPS+ to 93.
Fisher, batting eighth, clubbed a solo home run in the finale against Oakland that gave the Astros a 2-1 lead. His was the second of back-to-back homers following catcher Max Stassi.
"We talked about that being a big part of our offense," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of production from the bottom of the batting order.
Right-hander Justin Verlander (4-1, 1.17 ERA) will leapfrog right-hander Charlie Morton in the rotation and start the series opener. Following an off day, Hinch aims to keep Verlander on his regular schedule while also getting in additional rest for Morton, who logged more than 150 innings once over the previous six seasons. Verlander has five 200-inning seasons in that span.
Verlander, coming off his first regular-season loss with the Astros, is 12-6 with a 2.78 ERA over 22 career starts against the Rangers. He has faced Texas twice already this season, twirling six shutout innings in a 4-1 victory on Opening Day before recording 11 strikeouts over eight one-hit innings on April 15. Verlander did not factor in the decision in the Astros' 3-1 setback.
The Rangers will counter with veteran left-hander Cole Hamels (1-4, 3.94 ERA), who is winless over his last six starts (0-3, 4.11 ERA). Hamels suffered the loss opposite Verlander on Opening Day and allowed two runs on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over six innings at Houston on April 13 in a 3-2 loss. Hamels is 7-5 with a 4.16 ERA in his career against the Astros.
Like Houston, the Rangers (15-24) have enjoyed greater success on the road (8-8) than at Globe Life Park, where they improved to 7-16 with a 5-4 walk-off win over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday. Texas took two of three games at Minute Maid Park last month, one of three series losses over the last four home series for Houston.