Houston opens critical stretch vs. Rangers

Houston opens critical stretch vs. Rangers

HOUSTON -- No team has had Houston's number more than the Rangers over the past two seasons, but the Astros -- in need of some victories to keep their playoff hopes afloat -- are looking to put all of that behind them the next three days.

It's a critical moment in the season for the Astros, who were 3 1/2 games back and trailing four teams in the American League Wild Card race entering Monday. With only 19 games left in the regular season -- all against AL West opponents -- the Astros must win most of them if they want to reach the postseason for the second straight year.

"I think we're close enough in the race where anything can happen, and all those guys in the [AL East] are playing each other right now, so someone has to lose over there too," pitcher Luke Gregerson said. "If we keep going out and playing close games and finding ways to win, we can definitely get there."

The Astros start with a difficult test, as they've lost 21 of their last 25 against the Rangers, including 13 of 16 this season.

"Maybe they had [our number] in the past, but this is a new series, and we're going to start over," All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve said. "We're going to take everything out of our minds and we're going to go out there brand-new like this is first game of the season. We're going to go out there and win."

The Rangers, who entered Monday owning the third-best record in baseball, have beaten the Astros in every series this season, with five of their 13 wins coming by one run or less.

"We've got to take better advantage of some clutch positions in the game where we can manufacture some runs," Gregerson said. "I think the pitching staff's been doing a really great job of holding them tight, and we've just got to find a way to scratch a couple more over."

Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.