The Houston Astros have separated themselves from the pack in the past month.
They’ll try to widen the gap even further when they go for a four-game sweep against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night in Anaheim, Calif.
The Astros (91-61) had a 2 1/2-game lead on the Oakland Athletics in the AL West just over a month ago, and now enter Thursday with an eight-game edge over the Seattle Mariners.
Houston’s magic number to clinch the division is three.
The Astros flashed their trademark resilience again on Wednesday night, blowing a three-run lead in the seventh, tying the score in the eighth and then twice having their backs against the wall in extra innings before winning 9-5 in the 12th.
The Astros plan to keep outfielder Yordan Alvarez out of the lineup in the series finale.
Alvarez had three hits, including his 32nd home run of the season, and drove in three runs on Wednesday night, but was removed shortly after he jogged out to left field in the eighth inning.
Houston manager Dusty Baker said Alvarez was experiencing soreness, but didn’t elaborate.
“I was trying to preserve him,” Baker said. “He was sore. We just could not take a chance. We had to protect him. We just can’t lose him.”
The Angels, meanwhile, have lost eight in a row in Anaheim, their longest home losing streak during the same season since 1994.
The Angels plan to send veteran right-hander Alex Cobb to the mound to try and halt the skid and salvage a win in the series.
Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) threw five shutout innings in his return from the injured list on Sept. 16 at the Chicago White Sox. He allowed two hits, struck out five and walked two after missing the previous five weeks with right wrist inflammation.
“That really did exceed expectations,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s wonderful to see and to build on, for us and for him.”
Cobb faced the Astros on April 22 in Houston and struggled. He allowed five runs (four earned) and six hits in 2 2/3 innings of the 8-2 loss.
Cobb has made four career starts against the Astros overall and is 1-3 with an 8.50 ERA.
Cobb will be a free agent after this season and is auditioning for a possible starting spot somewhere in the league.
“We get paid to go out there and compete, and it’s what we love to do,” Cobb said. “We love to go out there and be in that mode where we’re fighting with the guys and trying to win ballgames.”
The Astros are scheduled to start veteran right-hander Lance McCullers Jr.
McCullers (12-4, 3.11) has already posted a career-high in wins and is 2-0 in three starts this month with a 2.50 ERA.
He most recently allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings of a 6-4 loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 10 innings on Saturday.
He beat the Angels on Sept. 12, allowing one run and three hits in six innings of 3-1 win.
He’s 5-4 in 17 career starts against the Angels with a 2.92 ERA.
–Field Level Media