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The Texas Rangers had a disappointing finish to the 2012 season and were left out of all the big-name signings during the offseason, leaving a few question marks heading into 2013. The Houston Astros, who open their first year in American League play by hosting the Rangers on Sunday night, have a less positive outlook for the season. The Astros have finished with the worst record in the majors in each of the last two seasons.
Houston agreed to move over to the AL as part of the sale of the team and will be transitioning from one of the worst divisions - the National League Central - to one that should be one of the most hotly-contested in the AL West. Texas is one of three teams in the West that won at least 89 games in 2012 and the fourth club - the Seattle Mariners - boasts a strong pitching staff. One thing Houston won’t have to deal with in its opening series is Josh Hamilton, who left the Rangers for the rival Los Angeles Angels over the winter.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
PITCHING MATCHUP: Rangers LH Matt Harrison (2012: 18-11, 3.29 ERA) vs. Astros RH Bud Norris (2012: 7-13, 4.65)
Harrison inherits the No. 1 spot from Colby Lewis, who got the opening day nod last season but will begin 2013 on the disabled list after undergoing arm surgery. Texas was reportedly in the mix for the top arm on the free agent market, Zack Greinke, but fell short on that bid and will instead hand things off to the All-Star Harrison, who is coming off his best season. The left-hander is 0-1 in four career games - two starts - against Houston but has never allowed a hit to any of the current Astros players he has faced, most notably Carlos Pena (0-for-8) and Chris Carter (0-for-7).
Norris takes over the mantel of No. 1 starter for Houston this season after the team aggressively traded away veterans last summer. The 28-year-old right-hander has averaged just under one strikeout per inning in his career but has never beaten an AL opponent, going 0-1 with a 6.19 ERA in three career interleague starts. Norris has never faced the Rangers but has been a stronger pitcher in his career at Minute Maid Park with a 3.51 ERA in 48 starts.
* Rangers are 14-2 in Harrison’s last 16 starts during game one of a series.
* Astros are 4-17 in Norris' last 21 starts.
* Under is 4-1 in Rangers’ last five road games.
* Under is 5-1 in Astros’ last six home games.
1. Texas is 19-5 against Houston over the last four seasons.
2. Only two players that started on opening day last season for the Astros - second baseman Jose Altuve and catcher Jason Castro - are expected to be in Sunday’s lineup.
3. The Rangers brought in former Houston star Lance Berkman in the offseason and are expected to slot the 37-year-old in at DH.
The Astros look to take advantage of a Rangers team that is 1-4 in Matt Harrison's last 5 road starts. Houston is the pick (+140) according to Dunkel, which has the Astros favored by 1 1/2. Dunkel Pick: Houston (+140). Here are all of today's picks
SUNDAY, MARCH 31
Time Posted: 8:00 a.m. EST
Game 997-998: Texas at Houston (8:00 p.m. EST)
Dunkel Ratings: Texas (Harrison) 14.514; Houston (Norris) 15.779
Dunkel Line: Houston by 1 1/2; 9 1/2
Vegas Line: Texas (-160); 8 1/2
Dunkel Pick: Houston (+140); Over