ARLINGTON -- A three-run home run by Mitch Moreland helped the Rangers complete a stunning four-game sweep of the Astros with a 8-2 victory on Thursday night. The Rangers, with their fifth straight victory and 18th in their last 26 games, now lead the Astros by 2 1/2 games in the American League West.
The Astros have now lost eight of their last 10 games but are still leading in the race for the second Wild Card spot. They have lost 26 of their last 34 road games but open a nine-game homestand at Minute Maid Park on Friday night. That includes three games against the Rangers at the end of the homestand next weekend.
"The bottom line is we just got outplayed," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "They found different ways to win games and executed pretty flawlessly. We'll see them in a week at our place and we've got plenty of baseball left. It's not a good feeling going home getting beat up like this, but these games are over."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Moreland doesn't knuckle under: Moreland, batting with two on and two out, struck out on a knuckle curve from McCullers in the first inning. Moreland came up in the same situation in the third and this time McCullers threw him a full-count knuckle curve. Moreland didn't miss it, hitting a drive over the left-field wall for a three-run homer.
"He's a good pitcher, I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and I got one," Moreland said.
McCullers comes through: McCullers, who allowed three runs in six innings, delivered a quality start when it was much needed. Astros starting pitchers Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel combined to allow 14 runs and 19 hits in 8 1/3 innings in the previous two games against the Rangers. In his previous start in Arlington a month ago, McCullers gave up six runs in one-third of an inning.
"I feel like I put my best foot forward," McCullers said. "I feel like I threw the ball pretty well, some jams I wish I would have been able to avoid, especially early. I wish I had made a better location, maybe a little bit on the Moreland one. Just a popup that ran out of room, really."
Stubbs manufactures rally: After Chris Gimenez led off the Rangers seventh, Drew Stubbs went in to pinch-run for him. Delino DeShields bunted him to second. With Choo at the plate, Stubbs stole third and scored on a wild pitch to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead. Choo then singled and later scored on a two-out double by Adrian Beltre.
Seventh-inning double play costly: The Astros rallied at the bottom of the order in the seventh inning when Luis Valbuena singled and Jason Castro walked. That brought up Jose Altuve, who hit a sharp grounder to Beltre for the start of a costly double play. George Springer followed with a strikeout to end the rally. More >
"I think my problem there was I didn't have a plan," Altuve said. "I wanted to do more than I should do. I wanted to win the game with one swing, and I didn't think about something else. The emotions got in my head. I wanted to hit the ball and I hit into a double play."
"As we've seen, the race or the playoffs or the Wild Card or the division, all this stuff can turn on a dime and we can be a part of that because we still control our own destiny playing good baseball against teams that are in it." -- Hinch, on the Astros' playoff push
"The energy is here, the way we play together. The way we are in clubhouse, there's a lot of similarities. Every time is different but we've got the group that's together and we play together on the field. That's fun, but of course winning takes care of that." -- Rangers outfielder Mike Napoli
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: The Astros open their final homestand of the season at 7:05 p.m. CT Friday at Minute Maid Park against the Oakland A's. Mike Fiers (7-10, 3.67 ERA) will get the start for the Astros, who acquired him in a July trade. In six starts with the Astros, Fiers is 2-1 with 2.08 ERA, including a no-hitter.
Rangers: Right-hander Yovani Gallardo opens a three-game series against the Mariners at 7:05 p.m. CT Friday in Arlington. Gallardo is ninth in the American League with a 3.35 ERA. He is 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA in three starts against the Mariners this season.