Rangers-Astros Preview

A lingering rough stretch might be mentally taking its toll on the Houston Astros.

The Texas Rangers, meanwhile, seem eager to collectively play the role of antagonists.

Looking to remain undefeated at home, ace Dallas Keuchel tries to help the Astros earn a needed series victory over the Rangers on Sunday.

Rougned Odor homered in the third inning, then tripled right after getting into a verbal exchange with Houston catcher Hank Conger in the ninth of Texas' 7-6 victory Saturday. The incident, which began when Conger took exception to Odor taking his time getting into the batter's box, resulted in both benches clearing and a brief shouting match between managers. Astros skipper A.J. Hinch and Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder also jawed at each other but nobody was ejected.

''If you wondered if games in July matter, that's probably proof positive that there's some emotion involved and there's some intent to win the game,'' Hinch said.

Frustration seems to be mounting for a Houston club that's dropped nine of 11 and trails the first-place Los Angeles Angels by 1 1/2 games in the AL West. The Astros (50-43) are 1-4 against Texas at home.

''I think you saw some passion from our guys, some emotion from our guys,'' Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. ''One, they're not going to be pushed around. They come out to play hard and I think that never-quit attitude is something they do enjoy and they embrace.''

Though Keuchel (11-4, 2.23 ERA) is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in both July starts that came on the road, he'll try to extend a 17-inning scoreless stretch at Minute Maid Park, where he's 8-0 with a major-league best 1.24 ERA in 10 outings.

"For me, he's the best pitcher in the league right now," All-Star teammate Jose Altuve said. "He throws the ball really good and he's having a really good season."

Keuchel has a 1.80 ERA and no record in two 2015 outings against the Rangers (43-47), who handed Houston one of its two home defeats with the All-Star Game starter on the mound.

Odor is 6 for 10 with two triples and that home run in the series, but 1 for 10 against the left-hander. Josh Hamilton, who had two doubles and a homer Saturday, is 6 for 15 (.400) with a home run versus Keuchel.

A possible candidate to be dealt before the July 31 trade deadline, Yovani Gallardo (7-8, 2.62) also ranks among the major league leaders in ERA but has not received a single run of support while going 0-2 with a 2.08 ERA in three July outings.

"Honestly, I'm not trying to think about that," the right-hander said. "It is one of those things I can't control. I've got to keep the team in the game and give the team a chance to swing the bat.

He's 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA in his last five on the road, where he hasn't allowed a run in his last 22 1-3 innings.

Gallardo's lone 2015 appearance against the Astros came at home April 11, when he yielded two runs and eight hits and struck out seven in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-2 victory.

Jason Castro is 2 for 21 with nine strikeouts in his last seven home games but is batting .438 (7 for 16) with two doubles and a home run against Gallardo.

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