(Sports Network) - While the Texas Rangers have used a nine-game interleague road trip to increase their lead atop the American League West, the Houston Astros hope a return home can help them get back on track.
Texas and Houston open up their Lone Star Series this evening with the first of three straight meetings at the Astros' Minute Maid Park.
The Rangers claimed the Silver Boot, awarded to the winner of this six-game season series, last year by taking five of six from the Astros. That included a three-game sweep in Houston in which Texas outscored its in-state opponent 17-8.
Unfortunately for the Astros, the Rangers come to town having won five straight on a nine-game road trip that concludes with this series. Thursday's 6-4 win over Florida helped Texas finish off a three-game sweep and match its longest winning streak of the season.
The Rangers, who hadn't won five straight on a road trip since 2002, can record their longest winning streak since a seven-game run from May 10-17 of last year with a victory tonight.
Vladimir Guerrero homered in yesterday's win and Ian Kinsler drove in three runs, including two on a double in the fifth inning, to help the Rangers increase their lead over the second-place Angels in the AL West to 2 1/2 games.
"We understand we are a good team," said Kinsler. "We have to step up to the challenge."
One player who continues to step up to the challenge is Josh Hamilton, who extended his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games on Thursday. Hamilton is batting .449 (22-for-49) with seven homers and 19 RBI over his burst and is a career .327 hitter with five homers and 12 RBI in 17 games versus the Astros.
The Rangers hope to see more improvement out of Scott Feldman when the right- hander makes the start tonight.
Feldman allowed fewer than three runs for the first time in eight starts Saturday versus Milwaukee, hurling six scoreless innings and working around four hits and three walks in the victory. He improved to 4-6 with a 5.28 earned run average.
"This is just one game," Feldman told Texas' official website. "Hopefully I can keep building on each start, keep getting better and keep it going. It's nice to finally get a win."
The 27-year-old, who has struggled to a 2-4 mark and 6.03 ERA in six road starts this year, has faced the Astros six times -- twice as a starter -- and is 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA against them.
The Astros return home having gone 4-6 on a 10-game road trip, losing five of the final six games on the swing. They were in position to record a series win over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday, but instead lost a 5-2 decision.
Starter Brett Myers was solid early, but allowed four seventh-inning runs to take the loss. Houston's offense failed to aid Myers' 6 2/3-inning start, as the club was held off the scoreboard following Hunter Pence's two-run double in the first inning.
Houston has endured a roller-coaster ride this season with Wandy Rodriguez, who hopes to snap a two-start skid this evening.
Rodriguez had won three straight outings before taking a loss at Colorado on June 7 despite seven innings of three-run ball, and was then hammered for a season high-tying eight runs over just five innings against the Yankees on Saturday. The loss dropped the lefty to 3-9 with a 5.60 ERA on the season.
"I don't know what to say about that," said Rodriguez on Houston's website. "Sometimes I throw a good one and I lose the game, and sometimes I throw a bad one and lose the game, too. I need to keep working."
The 31-year-old has pitched better at home this year, having gone 2-3 with a 4.18 ERA as compared to 1-6 with a 6.50 ERA on the road, and is 3-1 with a 5.01 ERA in four career starts against the Rangers.