Just when it appeared the Houston Astros were set to squander the momentum gained by their three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers last week, they responded in resounding fashion Sunday in the rubber match of a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.
Featuring their best offensive lineup for the first time this season — one that included stalwarts Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker, plus breakout contributors Chas McCormick and Yainer Diaz — the Astros pounded the Padres 12-2 for their first home-series victory since Aug. 11-13 against the Los Angeles Angels.
The Astros (82-62) opened a 2 1/2-game lead in the American League West over the Seattle Mariners, who fell 6-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday. Houston now will play nine of 12 games against the two worst teams in the majors, the Oakland Athletics (44-99) and Kansas City Royals (44-100), starting with a three-game home set against Oakland on Monday night.
"I think we're about to hit our stride," McCormick said. "We're putting some good games together. Obviously, we've been a little up-and-down, but I'm starting to see us play really well defensively (and) offensively. We're as healthy as we can be, and it's a good time to get going."
Left-hander Framber Valdez (11-9, 3.30 ERA) will start the series opener for the Astros. Valdez has won back-to-back starts and is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA over his past three starts.
Including his first career no-hitter against the Cleveland Guardians on Aug. 1, Valdez has logged at least seven innings in five of his past seven starts and six innings against the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 30.
Valdez is 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA over 12 career appearances (10 starts) against Oakland. In his previous start against the Athletics, he allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts over five innings in a 6-4 road victory on July 21.
Rookie right-hander Mason Miller (0-2, 3.09 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Athletics on Monday. It will mark the sixth career appearance and fifth start for Miller, who made his major league debut on April 19 and started four games before winding up on the 60-day injured list with right forearm tightness.
Since being reinstated on Wednesday, he worked in relief against the Toronto Blue Jays and recorded three strikeouts over two perfect innings in the Athletics' 5-2 home victory.
Miller will make his first career appearance against the Astros.
The Athletics dropped the rubber match of their three-game series against Texas 9-4 on Sunday, recovering from the Rangers' three-run first inning with four runs in the third before Texas posted a two-spot in the fifth and four runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Even with the loss, the Athletics are 10-9 over their last 19 games and have been far more competitive after opening the season with 50 losses across their first 62 games.
"Our goal this month was to be competitive," Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said. "I thought we came in here up until that sixth inning and had a chance to win another game against a contending team. For all three games, I thought we played decent overall."
—Field Level Media