For as hot as the A's have been the last month-and-a-half, the Astros have been better. On Sunday with the A's losing at Tampa Bay, Justin Verlander was striking out 11, matching his season career high in strikeouts with 269. He also went over 200 innings pitched for the eleventh time, something only two other pitchers have done since 1994.
After a tough loss on Friday, the Astros bounced back with a pair of good offensive showings to grab the series win. Josh Reddick homered in consecutive games, George Springer went 6-8 with two walks and Jose Altuve went 2-5 with a couple RBIs. Even Carlos Correa managed a couple of hits as the team tries to round into shape offensively leading into the playoffs.
The only negative was a shaky bullpen. After a perfect eighth from Ryan Pressly, Colin McHugh and Roberto Osuna gave up three runs in the ninth before Osuna closed out the game.
Whatever missteps, the Astros continued to look like they are going to be a very tough team to beat come the postseason. Their magic number for a playoff birth is three and their magic number for the the division is nine with 13 games to play. They are only six games away from 100 wins and appear to have the inside track on the second best record in baseball.
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Next up is a three-game set at Minute Maid with the Mariners who swept the Astros last time they were in Houston. The M's have not been playing well and are seven-and-a-half back of the A's for the wild card spot. With so few games remaining, they will need to be nearly perfect if they want to close on the A's.
The Astros will pitch youngster Framber Valdez in game one against fellow lefty Wade LeBlanc. LeBlanc is having the best season of his 10-year career with an ERA of 3.56. However, in three starts against Houston, his ERA is a whopping 8.10. Don't expect him to pitch too many innings as Seattle will want to rely on its bullpen if they plan to win.
Valdez is 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA in limited action, but he's shown remarkable resilience for his age and has given the Astros the opportunity to keep their guys in a standard five-man rotation since Lance McCullers, Jr. went down with an arm injury. And they haven't had to dive deeply into their bullpen either.
After the Mariners, the Angels come to town before the Astros close it out on the road with three at Toronto and four at Baltimore, two of the worst teams in baseball.