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Rangers look to sweep Astros in Florida

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Days after enduring a three-game sweep at the hands of the last-place Oakland Athletics, the Texas Rangers are one win away from a three-game sweep of the first-place Houston Astros.

Back at .500, the Rangers (66-66) are still in the thick of the wild-card chase, three games behind the Minnesota Twins for the final American League playoff spot.

"We need to come out with the same intensity, the same preparation, the same professional at-bats," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. It's about playing pitch to pitch. They're a very good ball team over there, and they're in front (of the AL West) for a reason. They know how to win baseball games, and we need to play excellent baseball."

The Ranger did that in two games at Tropicana Field, where the three-game series was relocated from Houston, which is still dealing with heavy flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The Astros (79-53) had considered playing a second three-game series in St. Petersburg against the New York Mets this weekend, but they announced Wednesday that they would return home and play those games at Minute Maid Park. The Friday game was postponed to be part of a doubleheader against the Mets on Saturday.

The oddity of playing a neutral-site "home" game 780 miles from Houston: The Wednesday game had a solid attendance of 6,123, though fans saw a second straight lopsided loss for the Astros, who fell 8-1 after losing 12-2 to Texas on Tuesday

"It's been fantastic. I can't thank the fans enough in this community that came out in support of this series," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of the turnout at Tropicana Field. "You can't ask for much more. This ballpark, two teams from Texas, obviously there's some of our fans and some of their fans, but mostly Rays fans. Really proud."

The series will wrap up Thursday afternoon with a pair of right-handers on the mound. Houston will send Collin McHugh (2-2, 3.63 ERA) against Texas and Nick Martinez (3-5, 5.26).

Martinez, 27, has been up and down between the majors and Triple-A Round Rock. He is coming off a quality start, throwing seven innings Friday at Oakland and giving up three runs in a 3-1 loss. Martinez has pitched well against Houston, going 3-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 10 games against the Astros, including an 0-1 mark and 4.91 ERA this season.

McHugh, 30, has had success against the Rangers in his career, producing a 4-1 record despite a 5.30 ERA. He has not faced Texas this season.

The emotion of returning home to Houston will make Thursday a difficult day for the Astros, who still have a three-game lead over Cleveland for the best record in the American League with 30 games left in the regular season.

Hinch has been careful not to make more of two losses under unusual circumstances, but a win to close out the series Thursday would give the Astros something positive to take into what should be a memorable doubleheader Saturday against the Mets -- giving Houston something else to think about after a tragic week back home.

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