|Astros eye AL West title behind Verlander vs. Angels|
The victory that will lift the Astros to their third consecutive American League West pennant will eventually come to fruition, and in all likelihood, it could manifest Sunday when Houston concludes its three-game weekend set against the visiting Los Angeles Angels.
With their Cy Young Award frontrunner, right-hander Justin Verlander, on the bump, the Astros should feel good about their chances of recording their 12th win in 14 games at home against the Angels. Despite their 8-4 victory Saturday, the Angels are just 7-18 over their last 25 road games.
The underlying concern for the Astros (101-54) -- in the pursuit of their ninth full-season division title in franchise history, the best record in the majors, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs -- is what role veteran left-hander Wade Miley will play come the postseason.
Saturday, Miley failed to record more than three outs in a start for the third time in four appearances this month, and with postseason roster decisions looming, the timing of his struggles could not be worse.
"He's a veteran, and when it wears on an older guy, that brings some concern to me," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "We're going to figure it out, and he's going to be really effective for us.
"But given the time, it's a difficult time to assess because he's got one start left before we've got to make some decisions, but we'd obviously like to get him in a better frame of mind."
Verlander (19-6, 2.50 ERA) will start the home finale for the Astros on Sunday. With a victory, he would produce the second 20-win season of his exceptional career; he finished 24-5 in 2011 while claiming both the AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards.
Verlander needs 11 strikeouts to become the 18th pitcher in history to record 3,000 for his career and eight strikeouts to set a new single-season high of 291, which would break his 2018 mark. He leads the majors in innings (212) and adjusted ERA (183), and is 9-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 13 starts in the second half.
He is 13-10 with a 3.18 ERA over 27 career starts against the Angels, including a 1-1 record and 5.40 ERA this season.
Right-hander Jose Rodriguez (0-0, 1.84 ERA) will start Sunday as the Angels (70-85) attempt to take the series from playoff-bound Houston. It will mark the first start of his career and seventh overall appearance (and first against the Astros).
Rodriguez has not allowed a run in his last 10 innings. He made his major league debut on July 27 against the Baltimore Orioles. His most recent appearance came Sept. 17 at Yankee Stadium, where he worked three scoreless innings.
With a magic number of one, Houston was poised to celebrate a division title Saturday before the Angels thwarted those plans with three first-inning runs off Miley. Playing the role of spoiler suits the Angels just fine, both against the Astros and potentially the Oakland A's, who will pay a visit to Anaheim for a two-game set starting Tuesday in pursuit of a wild-card postseason berth.
"I hope we do it again," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of keeping the champagne on ice. "I hope we do it again, then I hope we do it again against Oakland."
The Angels will host the Astros for a four-game set starting Thursday to close the season.
--Field Level Media