If the Houston Astros are heading into a two-game series against rival Texas with the idea that they'll be able to push around the rebuilding Rangers and get back on track after three straight losses, maybe it's time to think again.
The Astros will send struggling left-hander Dallas Keuchel (4-8, 4.22 ERA) to the mound in the first game of the series on Tuesday at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Texas will counter with right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx (1-1, 3.57).
Houston lost three straight games in Tampa Bay last weekend, including a 3-2 setback on Sunday, and dropped its first series since May 28-30 at Yankee Stadium.
The Astros were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position on Sunday and 0-for-14 in the series. Houston managed just seven runs in the four-game series -- all on homers, including two solo shots Sunday by Evan Gattis.
It was the Astros' fewest runs in a four-game series on the road since they scored five at Tropicana Field against the Rays in 2014.
"We didn't do enough to win the game or the series," Astros manager AJ Hinch told mlb.com. "We made some mental errors, we had some big moments that they executed some pitches. One-run games, a couple of losses this series, are tough to swallow. We'll take it to the next city, but this one sucks."
The Rangers, meanwhile, have been as hot as the triple-digit temperatures in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Texas is 12-6 since the Astros swept a four-game series from them in Arlington on June 7-10 and have won a season-best five straight series, including taking two of three games last weekend at home against the White Sox.
Texas ended that series with a 10-5 loss on Sunday in which ace starter Cole Hamels struggled, allowing a season-high seven earned runs and nine hits, which matched his high for the year.
Hamels, who has been the constant subject of trade talks for the past month, said afterward that he was blocking out that talk and it had no effect on his performance.
"It's not a big deal. It's out of my control," Hamels said. "I have to go and pitch, and hopefully that'll be the last time I have to answer that question."
Keuchel took a no-decision in his last start on June 27 against Toronto, allowing six runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings of the Astros' 7-6 comeback victory. He surrendered five runs in the first inning before settling in to pitch five scoreless innings.
Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner and a 2-time All-Star (2015, 2017), will make his 18th start of the season and third against the Rangers this year. He is 9-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 25 career games, all starts, against Texas and is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 17 1/3 innings versus the Rangers in 2018.
Keuchel has not been as successful this season as over the past four seasons but he's still inducing a high ground ball rate and soft contact. He leads the AL in groundball to fly-ball ratio (2.64), while ranking third in soft contact percentage (23.1 percent).
Bibens-Dirkx will make his fifth start of the season and his first start against the Astros. He's coming off a no-decision against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, when he allowed two hits and struck out six in five scoreless innings in a game that San Diego won 3-2. Bibens-Dirkx is 0-1 with a 3.18 ERA at home this season.
Bibens-Dirkx was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock before his June 20 start against Kansas City for his second stint with Texas in 2018. He will be working on regular four days' rest; the Rangers are 2-2 in his four starts this season.