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Astros arrive in Texas short on pitching

ARLINGTON, Texas -- At this point, all that's on the table for the Houston Astros is gearing up for the playoffs. They are comfortably in control of the American League West and have been the class of the league all season.

However, one nagging issue sticks out as October looms on the horizon: starting pitching.

The potential hole is why the Astros were universally criticized for not adding on at the non-waiver trade deadline. There were even players inside the clubhouse who weren't too happy with the lack of action at the end of July.

Still, such talk possibly could serve as a motivating factor.

"I think the starting pitchers should take offense to it," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said, according to MLB.com. "We roll guys out there that are trying to do exactly what everybody says they can't do or we don't have. We don't spend a lot of time talking about what other people say about us. I think we have great chemistry, great culture, a lot of pride and a ton of competitive guys.

"At the end of the season, we'll be able to evaluate exactly what we were or what we are or where we're going. I think to spend a lot of time and energy on that stuff, it's probably wasteful. We've got to find other ways to get better other than to defend ourselves to the external world."

The Astros (71-43) arrive in Texas to start a three-game series Friday against the AL West rival Rangers (54-59) admittedly beat up on the mound. The injuries have hit Houston's top arms.
Dallas Keuchel, coming off allowing a season-worst eight runs, has missed time this season with a neck injury. Collin McHugh, out for much of the season, was also shelled in his latest outing. Lance McCullers Jr. is on the disabled list due to back discomfort.

The starters have noticeably struggled lately. Houston's rotation had a 3.82 ERA in the first half of the season, which ranked sixth in baseball. Since the All-Star break, going into Thursday, the group had a 5.76 ERA to check in at 26th.

Making matters worse, the Astros were swept by the White Sox in a three-game series in Chicago, capped by a 3-2, 11-inning defeat Thursday.

Hinch, though, isn't worried. Despite the lack of adding a big name at the deadline -- Houston did pick up left-hander Francisco Liriano from the Toronto Blue Jays -- the Astros skipper believes his starters will get healthier and revert back to their first-half ways.

"When you roll out quality start after quality start, you can put together really good runs of 10 games," he said. "You can go 7-3, 8-2, 9-1 or even 10-0, and most of the time when those good stretches happen, your starting pitchers are doing their job and they're doing it well."

Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (9-4, 3.78 ERA) will start the series opener against Texas at Globe Life Park hoping to snap the club's three-game losing streak. Morton is coming off three consecutive quality starts, and he gave up just one run in six innings in his only outing against the Rangers this season.

The Rangers will counter with lefty Cole Hamels (6-1, 3.59 ERA). In Texas' 4-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, Hamels threw just his second complete game in 57 starts with the Rangers.

Texas had a day off Thursday after beating the New York Mets 5-1 on Wednesday to finish a 3-3 trip. The Houston series starts a 10-game homestand. The Rangers sit just 3 1/2 games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

"Obviously, we'd like to be better than that," Rangers manager Jeff Banister told MLB.com. "We talk about stacking wins on top (of one another). But as long as we salvaged a win (Wednesday), a .500 trip, (we) go home and see if we can capitalize on being at home."

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