First place in the American League West is on the line when the Houston Astros open a three-game series on the road against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.
The Astros have won five of seven from their rivals so far this season, including four straight in Oakland to open the season to jump immediately atop the division.
But the A’s used consecutive wins to close out a series win in Houston during the second week of the season as a springboard to a 13-game winning streak that vaulted them from last place to first in the division.
That’s where they’ve resided ever since, but the Astros have won six in a row to close within a half-game on the eve of the showdown between second-round playoff opponents last year.
Astros manager Dusty Baker noted after Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers that capped an 8-2 homestand that he looks at the standings for just one reason at this time of year.
“You are trying to put as much distance between you and .500 as possible,” he said of his 24-17 club. “We needed a good homestand and it was in our division, so that combination of things, it was key for us to win.”
Astros right-hander Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA) and A’s lefty Sean Manaea (3-2, 4.40) are the scheduled starters in the series opener.
Javier has started a pair of wins over Oakland this season, including throwing five shutout innings in a 6-2 win in Houston in their last head-to-head.
Those were two of the four games he has pitched against Oakland in his career, not counting two relief appearances in last year’s playoffs, during which he blanked the A’s on three hits over 3 1/3 innings.
His regular-season record against Oakland is 1-2 with a 4.86 ERA.
Javier will have to deal with a hot Elvis Andrus in the series. The first-year A’s shortstop hit .353 on Oakland’s just completed trip to Boston and Minnesota, during which the visitors went 4-2.
The former Texas Ranger has gone just 1-for-5 in his career against Javier.
The A’s won’t take a winning streak into the series — their 7-6 win Sunday at Minnesota came on the heels of a 5-4 defeat the day before — but pitcher Chris Bassitt assured Oakland will carry momentum into Tuesday’s game.
“I mean it’s huge,” he said of Sunday’s win. “If you’re looking at a single game that (encapsulates) what are the Oakland A’s and what are they made of, this would be it.”
Manaea also faced the Astros in his first two starts this season, rebounding to throw six strong innings in a 6-2 win at Houston after getting bombed in a 9-2 loss at Oakland.
He lost Game 2 of the American League Division Series at home to the Astros last season, allowing four runs and five hits in 4.1 innings. Martin Maldonado homered off him in that game.
Manaea has made 15 regular-season starts against the Astros in his career, going 3-6 with a 3.50 ERA. Maldonado has hit .500 off him in those games, while Alex Bregman has bombed three home runs.
Kyle Tucker comes into the series swinging a hot bat for Houston. He’s gone 9-for-22 (.409) with three homers and seven RBIs during the six-game winning streak.
–Field Level Media