HOUSTON (AP) — Houston dominated Texas during the regular season, winning nine of 13 matchups.
Now the Rangers get another chance at the Astros when they meet for the first time in the playoffs in a Texas-sized showdown with a trip to the World Series on the line starting Sunday night in Houston.
The Astros completed the regular season matchup against the Rangers with a three-game sweep at the beginning of September. Houston hit 16 homers to sweep that series by a combined score of 39-10.
But despite the lopsided results this season, both teams say they’ll start with a clean slate for the American League Championship Series.
“Regular season doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Houston Game 1 starter Justin Verlander said. “And I think it’s a different game. Playoffs is a different brand of baseball.”
That series in September was during the worst slump of the season for the Rangers, who were without third baseman Josh Jung and who lost Adolis García during the series.
Texas first baseman Nathaniel Lowe also noted that 21-year-old outfielder Evan Carter wasn’t even in the majors the last time the Rangers met the Astros.
“I think we were missing two or three bats, two or three starting bats. Evan was still in high school,” Lowe joked. “We had a couple pieces that weren’t fully, fully firing on all pistons.”
Houston’s success in the head-to-head matchup allowed the Astros to win the AL West while the Rangers had to play in the Wild Card Series after both teams finished with 90-72 records.
Now both teams are back to full strength and prepared to fight for the Lone Star state crown.
This isn’t the first time Houston manager Dusty Baker has experienced a high stakes, in-state postseason matchup.
As manager of the San Francisco Giants in 2002, he lost the World Series to the Anaheim Angels.
“In California we were in the World Series, two teams, us and the Angels, battling for bragging rights in California,” he said. “But everything is bigger in Texas. I’ve learned that since I’ve been here.”
Outfielder Robbie Grossman is in his first season with the Rangers but is well-acquainted with the rivalry, after going to high school in suburban Houston and spending his first three big league seasons with the Astros.
“It’s huge for baseball, but it’s even bigger for the state of Texas,” he said. “Just being a Texan, I know how much both these teams mean to the state.”
Verlander will face left-hander Jordan Montgomery on Sunday night.
Verlander, who returned to Houston in a July trade from the Mets, will make his 36th playoff start. The three-time Cy Young Award winner pitched six scoreless innings in the Division Series opener against Minnesota to extend his franchise record with his 10th postseason win.
This will be the fourth playoff start for Montgomery and third this season. Montgomery, acquired from St. Louis this summer, has had an up-and-down postseason after throwing seven shutout innings in the Wild Card Series before allowing four earned runs and nine hits in just four innings in Game 2 of the ALDS.
He talked about his struggles against the Orioles.
“Everything was a little un-synced up,” he said. “So just got to find my timing and execute more pitches.”
Houston’s Framber Valdez opposes Nathan Eovaldi in Game 2 on Monday.
MAD MAX BACK?
Texas starter Max Scherzer is expected to return for this series after being out since Sept. 12 because of a muscle strain in his shoulder.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner, also traded from the Mets this summer, said he was “ready to go” after throwing a bullpen session and doing fielding drills Friday.
Texas manager Bruce Bochy was asked if Scherzer would be included on the ALCS roster Saturday.
“Max is doing well,” Bochy said. “He’s done well. After workout today, we get together, we’ll get the staff, of course, (general manager) Chris Young and his staff, and we’ll talk about the roster. But he’s doing really well.”
Scherzer is 7-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 27 postseason games that include 22 starts. If he appears for Rangers, it would be the fifth team he has pitched for in the postseason after Detroit, Washington, the Dodgers and Mets.
Houston reliever Bryan Abreu enters the ALCS with a 31-inning scoreless streak in his last 30 appearances. Abreu, who hasn’t allowed a run since July 18, hasn’t been scored on in the postseason in 14 2/3 innings, which spans 14 appearances dating back to last year.
Abreu, who normally pitches the eighth inning before handing things off to closer Ryan Pressly, has allowed two hits in 3 1/3 innings over three appearances this postseason.
“As a pitcher you just have to be calm and be ready to execute every single pitch and keep attacking the strike zone,” he said. “If you let everything outside go through your head … you’ll lose focus.”
Arlington Mayor Jim Ross proposed a wager to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner that the loser of the series would have to wear the winner’s jersey to a city council meeting.
Turner quickly agreed and wrote on X: “Since I’ve been mayor, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Astros win the World Series… twice, so I accept.”
AP Baseball Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.
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