In-state rivals are a good thing, or so goes the notion in sports. The closer a team is to you in proximity, the greater the natural rivalry. There are certainly some rivalries that transcend geography, but there is a reason why a Yankees/Mets matchup in baseball is fun and interesting.
Enter the Astros and the Rangers. The two teams have faced each other 137 times dating back to 2001 and the inception of the Lone Star Series, not much more than a way to tally Astros futility against the Dallas ball club for the season. The 88-49 lead for the Rangers seems steep, but it's really not close to measuring the overall dominance.
To preface, for three years, the Astros were abysmal while the Rangers thrived, including 2013, when the Astros and Rangers began sharing a division (the Rangers went 17-2 that year against the hapless Stros). But when you look at years when the Astros were good, even then, they rarely posted victories in the seasons' series. Granted, it was a smaller sample size given interleague play, but still.
In the 15 years the teams have met until this season, the Rangers have won the season series 11 times — four of those were tiebreakers won by the Rangers in total runs scored. The Astros wins were close (4-2 twice, 11-8 in 2014), without any real decisive victories. Even last season, with the surprising run to the playoffs at Minute Maid, Texas crushed Houston 13-6, with only two of their six wins coming in Arlington.
Speaking of that, Arlington may as well be the fifth circle of hell for the Astros. It started well. From 2001 to 2004, the Astros were 8-3 on the road. Then, the wheels fell off. For the next 11 years, they were 14-39. Since joining the AL West, the Astros are 7-21 in Arlington NOT COUNTING THIS SEASON.
Which brings me to today. Counting yesterday's loss, the Astros have lost 12 straight in Big D and they are 21-6 overall against their now division rivals. Dallas Keuchel, the Astros' ace, has an ERA of nearly five there, including his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2015.
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It would be bad enough given the geographical rivalry, never mind the long-standing Houston vs. Dallas thing we all love to argue about. But when the team is also in your division, getting crushed eventually becomes more than just embarrassing; it becomes a roadblock to success.
In 2016, the Astros have not been good, certainly not coming close to the exciting 2015 results and appearing well behind the Sports Illustrated prediction of a 2017 World Series championship. They still have time to right their ship and had been on a tear, winning all but two of their previous 15 games before going to Arlington, and climbing out of the AL basement. But solving the Rangers may be as important as the Rockets' need to solve the Sonics in the early '90s or the Texans figuring out the Colts.
In the case of the Rockets, they just managed to avoid the Sonics on their way to two titles. The Astros don't have such a luxury in a league that piles on games inside the division like MLB. For them, the only way out is through Arlington, and given their incredible futility, it's hard to imagine a more pressing issue for the ball club over the next couple of seasons.