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Astros aim for continued dominance in Arlington

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Before the season started, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch said the road to the American League West title goes through Arlington.

While that was the case at the time, the road ends in Houston.

The Astros established their dominance throughout 2017, running away with the division title and looking every bit the part of a World Series contender.

If the Texas Rangers needed any reminders of the changing of the guard, the past two nights at Globe Life Park were more than enough. Houston has destroyed Texas by a combined score of 25-5 going into the series finale Wednesday, the last meeting between the instate rivals this season.

The Astros (97-60) are one game behind Cleveland (98-59) for the best record and home-field advantage in the AL playoffs. Houston has clinched home field in at least the AL Division Series.

"We just don't know who we're going to play," Hinch said. "This team has earned those first couple of home games and home-field advantage. We'll see how it shakes out and who we'll play, but some playoff baseball coming to Minute Maid (Park) pretty soon."

Texas (76-81) has lost five in a row and was eliminated from wild card contention Tuesday. The Rangers need to win their five final games to avoid a losing record after reaching the postseason the previous two years.

Texas has posted just one losing season since 2009.

"It boils down to playing complete baseball really through stretches," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "There were times of being able to put all facets of the game together consistently, and there were times where we were challenged with that."

Houston has won 11 of 18 games in the season series.

"Teams like we feel we should go out and handle business; we're doing that," Astros outfielder Cameron Maybin said. "It's easy being in the position we're in to have little letdowns, but we're doing a great job of continuing to bring the intensity, continuing to bring the energy and continue to have fun. It's always fun when you're knocking people off and sending people home."

The Astros will look for the sweep with Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.38 ERA overall) headed to the mound Wednesday. The veteran righty has been dominant since joining the Astros, going 4-0 and racking up a 0.64 ERA in 28 innings after coming over from the Detroit Tigers.

He is coming off seven shutout innings in a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday. Verlander is 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA against Texas this season, both starts coming with Detroit.

In 19 career starts vs. Texas, Verlander is 10-6 with a 3.02 ERA.

The Rangers counter with Nick Martinez, a 27-year-old right-hander likely making his final start of the season. He is starting for the fourth time since rejoining the rotation this month, and is 3-7 on the season with a 5.42 ERA.

Martinez is 0-3 over his past four starts with a 4.63 ERA and a .230/.264/.425/.689 opponents' slash line. Texas' offense hasn't done him any favors, averaging 2.70 runs of support per nine innings in those four games.

Martinez has gone 3-3 with a 3.28 ERA in his career against Houston in 11 games, with seven starts. He is 0-2 with a 4.58 ERA this season against the Astros, including a loss Aug. 31 in the series finale against Houston in a game relocated to Tampa Bay.

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