Astros set for their final Interleague in NL

Astros set for their final Interleague in NL

Astros set for their final Interleague in NL
HOUSTON -- They may be Interleague opponents this year, but the Astros will soon get to know their American League opponents very well.

The Astros are in their final season in the National League, which means the Interleague Play opponents they'll face this season will become yearly rivals beginning in 2013. Houston, of course, already knows the Texas Rangers and slugger Josh Hamilton pretty well heading into the first leg of the Lone Star Series beginning Friday at Minute Maid Park.

The two Texas rivals have met each year since 2001, but the Rangers have dominated the last three years of the series, going 14-4 against the Astros from 2009-11. The Astros haven't won the Silver Boot since going 4-2 against the Rangers in 2006.

Astros manager Brad Mills said the rivalry between the two clubs is already pretty good, though it will be taken to a new level next year when both clubs are in the AL West.

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"Any time you get in the same division, that has a tendency to build on that rival a little bit more," Mills said. "You play each other so many times and it's in your division, those games have a little bit more on the line."

The Astros have a solid designated-hitter option in first baseman Carlos Lee, who has been the team's primary DH in Interleague Play the last two years. He'll get six chances to DH, June 8-10 at the White Sox and when the Lone Star Series shifts to Arlington from June 15-17.

The Astros are also quite familiar with the White Sox, having played them in 2006 and 2007 on the heels of the 2005 World Series meeting between the two clubs. Houston's trip to U.S. Cellular Field will be the first of four trips to Chicago this year for the Astros, who play three series at Wrigley Field.

Players to watch
Carlos Lee, 1B (.277, 36 HRs, 143 RBIs): He has played more than 200 Interleague games in his career and has posted some meaty numbers.
Chris Johnson 3B (.302, 1 HR, 12 RBIs):: It's a small sample, but Johnson has responded pretty well to AL pitching.
Wandy Rodriguez, LHP (8-10, 5.25 ERA): The lefty has put up steady numbers during his career, but hasn't been as good against AL foes.
Brett Myers, RHP (6-9, 5.50 ERA, 2 saves): The starter-turned-closer has more experience against AL teams than any of his pitching teammates..
The Astros and Royals are also no strangers to each other, having met four times since 2005. Overall, the teams have played nine series against each other since Interleague Play began in 1997.

When the Astros close Interleague Play with a three-game series against the Indians in June, it will be the first game between the two teams since 2001. The Indians and Astros met each other in the first five years of Interleague Play, but haven't met since.

Last year: The Astros went 4-11 in Interleague Play last year, winning only once in nine games at home. That win came against the Rangers. They were swept at home by Boston and Tampa Bay.

All-time: Houston has posted its fewest Interleague wins in the past two seasons, going 4-11 in '11 and 3-12 in '10. The Astros haven't had a winning record in Interleague Play since '04 (7-5). They are 107-123 all-time.

vs. Rangers, May 18-20: Buy tickets
Hamilton and the Rangers make their annual visit to Houston. The Rangers have won the season series from their in-state rivals the past three seasons, going 14-4 against Houston in that span, including 8-1 at Minute Maid Park.

@ White Sox, June 8-10: Buy tickets
Sluggers Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko take their shot at the Astros when Houston visits U.S. Cellular Field for the first time since 2007. The Astros are 5-7 all-time at the White Sox in the regular season.

@ Rangers, June 15-17: Buy tickets
The Lone Star Series shifts to Arlington, where the Astros have lost two of three games in each of the last five seasons. It will be the first trip to Arlington for up-and-comers J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve.

vs. Royals, June 18-20: Buy tickets
Young sluggers Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas lead the Royals back to Minute Maid Park for the first time since 2009. The Astros are 16-11 all-time against the Royals, including 6-6 in Houston.

vs. Indians, June 22-24: Buy tickets
One of baseball's early surprise teams makes its first visit to Houston since 2001. The teams faced each other the first five seasons of Interleague Play, but haven't met since.

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.