Astros set to battle Rangers for AL West lead

Houston looking to overcome struggles at Arlington in Lone Star rivalry

Astros set to battle Rangers for AL West lead

HOUSTON -- The Astros come to Globe Life Park on Tuesday trailing the first-place Rangers by two games, which was the same gap between the teams last year in the American League West. The Rangers won the division by two games, thanks in part to their dominance over the Astros in the second half of the season.

The Astros went 6-13 against the Rangers in 2015, losing eight of 10 meetings to their Lone Star State rivals in August and September. Houston (2-11 at Arlington last year) has dropped seven in a row at Globe Life Park after being swept in three games last August and four games in September in a series that allowed the Rangers to surpass the Astros in the AL West standings.

Both are among the favorites in the division this season, and the Astros realize the importance of doing well against the Rangers if they want to win their first AL West crown.

"I think last year they were hot," said Astros pitcher Scott Feldman, who will pitch Tuesday's series opener. "Towards the end of the year, they were probably the hottest team in baseball it seems like after the trades they made for the bullpen and starting rotation. They just seemed like they were on fire the second half and had a pretty good team."

Feldman's solid start

The Lone Star rivalry, which began in Interleague Play in 2001, finally started to heat up last year with both teams in contention. The Astros went 2-17 against the Rangers during their 111-loss season of 2013 -- the first year both were in the AL West -- but Houston won the season series (11-8) in 2014.

The teams nearly came to blows in a game last July in Houston after Astros catcher Hank Conger became irritated with Rougned Odor for taking too long to get into the box. They exchanged words, and benches emptied at home plate with Rangers manager Jeff Banister and Astros manager A.J. Hinch having a heated exchange.

Benches clear in the 9th

"I expect a lot of intensity, I expect a lot of guys to remember the rival that we [experienced] last year for the first time as a group," Hinch said. "It's been here long before we were here and will be long after we're gone. I love the Astros-Rangers rivalry. It's brewing. Right now, I want to find wins against anybody."

The Rangers were a tough matchup for the Astros last year. Houston pitchers posted a 5.35 ERA in 19 games, giving up 22 home runs and a .289 average. In the final 10 meetings between the teams in August and September, the Rangers hit .309 with 14 home runs.

"It might be one of those years when they played good against us," Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. "I don't feel like they have our number. It's not like that. Last year, they did have a really good season and they played good against everybody. We were one of those teams they beat last year."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.