(Photo credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
By definition, the Houston Astros salvaged what was a lost week against the worst teams in the majors with a 7-1 road victory over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, a win that set the stage for a crucial final homestand of the regular season.
Houston (84-66) lost four of six games against the Royals and Oakland Athletics, the only two 100-loss teams in the majors. Yet, despite their struggles, the Astros extended their lead in the American League West to 1 1/2 games after the Texas Rangers lost 9-2 on Sunday to the Cleveland Guardians, who completed a surprising three-game series sweep.
The Astros will host the Baltimore Orioles (93-56) and Royals in a six-game homestand starting Monday against Baltimore. After finally securing first place in the division two weeks ago, the Astros have labored to create a cushion over their AL West rivals larger than 2 1/2 games. They should consider themselves fortunate that their recent woes haven't been more punitive.
"It was big," Astros manager Dusty Baker said of the sweep-averting win. "And also the fact that we finally gained some ground on Texas."
Right-hander Justin Verlander (11-8, 3.39 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Monday. He is 5-3 with a 3.86 ERA over eight starts with Houston following his trade-deadline acquisition from the New York Mets. Verlander has struggled this month, going 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA over three starts with seven home runs allowed in 20 innings. He won his last four starts of August while pitching to a 2.86 ERA during that stretch.
Verlander is 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA over 24 career starts against the Orioles. In his previous start against Baltimore on Sept. 22, 2022, Verlander allowed two runs on six hits with four strikeouts over six innings in a 2-0 road loss.
Left-hander John Means (0-1, 5.40) will make his second start of the season on Monday for the Orioles. He made his season debut on Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing three runs on five hits -- including two home runs -- with one strikeout over five innings in a 5-2 loss. He threw 75 pitches, 55 for strikes.
It marked Means' first major league appearance since April 13, 2022, against the Milwaukee Brewers. He was reinstated from the 60-day injured list prior to his start against the Cardinals to complete his return from Tommy John surgery.
Means will make his first career appearance against the Astros. He is 5-3 with a 1.99 ERA and eight quality starts in 11 career starts against the AL West.
The Orioles clinched their first postseason berth since 2016 on Sunday. They added to the good vibes with a 5-4, 11-inning victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday that secured a split of the four-game series and reestablished the Orioles' two-game lead in the AL East.
The division title is in sight for the Orioles, whose season has been a rousing success. After finishing in fourth or last place in the AL East in each of the past six seasons, their rapid climb to the top has been one of the surprises of this season.
"They're a confident group," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said of his club. "A lot of them were high-round picks. It's probably their makeup. They're confident guys."
--Field Level Media