"I think this is what MLB was hoping we'd see occasionally when they put Houston in the same division with Texas." - Adam Morris of LSB
Aside its in-state-ness, the Rangers and Astros have never been true rivals. I mean, until 2013 they didn't even play in the junior circuit together. They have never meaningfully competed against one another for anything that meant anything. The league difference makes up about 90% of that difference, with the other 10% being that Texas has pretty much owned Houston in their history: In 122 total games between the two franchises, the Rangers are 75-47 (.615) with a +164 run differential. (Editor's note: that last stat isn't relevant whatsoever to this week's matchups.)
So, no, this "rivalry" doesn't have the cachet of Red Sox/Yankees, Ohio State/Michigan, Duke/UNC, or any reasonable facsimile thereof, because it's never really been one. That is, possibly, until right now.
It's budding, definitely, if for nothing else that these games -- 4 in Arlington this week, 3 in Houston next weekend -- matter. The Rangers are 8-4 against the Astros in 2015; since July 28th they've gone 18-5 (.783) at their home park; this year Houston is 29-42 (.408) on the road, and have won only one road series since June 17th.
The Rangers are in a good position at home this week.
Houston, of course, has been The Team To Beat in the West all year. They are the only team in its division with a plus run differential (+105), have allowed 39 fewer runs than anyone else in the American League, and if math made things fair they would be a lot closer to clinching the division than they are right now. Baseball happens. Right now, Houston's division lead is the slimmest of margins.
As a Rangers fan, I realize the burden of being in first place all year, and I'll admit I didn't appreciate it enough while it was happening between 2010-'13. It's taken a last place finish in 2014 and a hopeless 2015 outlook to get me back to where I began, where a lot of us were for years and years and years before Texas became competitive: we're the underdogs again. There's a familiar comfort in that.
I have to hand it to the Astros for being the division's best team this year, but it doesn't mean a whole lot with a one-game lead and 20 to play, 7 against the Rangers. Just like Texas, they are going to have to earn their ticket to the Division Series.
So that's the primer. Tonight Cole Hamels opposes Scott Kazmir, in what is sure to be the showcase of Major League Baseball this week.