HOUSTON — While Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel failed to keep an impressive streak going for the rotation, what Houston starters have done recently qualifies as a positive development.
Before Keuchel allowed two runs over six innings in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, Houston starters had recorded the decision in six consecutive wins.
The Astros will aim to bounce back Friday when they open a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.
Including Keuchel’s loss Thursday, the rotation has allowed just nine earned runs on 26 hits and 13 walks with 42 strikeouts over the past 42 innings, good for a 1.93 ERA during that stretch.
Houston starters are trending in the right direction at the most opportune time with the postseason upcoming.
“A lot of that comes with the health, too,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “There were times this year where we weren’t rolling the same five guys or six guys out in a row, and these guys come out and stay in games long enough.
“I remember the stretch in the season where the starter wouldn’t get through five innings. I remember the part early on where we had a really strong top end of the rotation and we scuffled in the back, and then it flipped when the top of our rotation got hurt. Rolling out a good starting pitcher every game is key for a winning ballclub.”
Right-hander Justin Verlander (3-0, 0.86 ERA with Houston; 13-8, 3.50 ERA for overall) will make his fourth start for the Astros (93-59) in the opener against the Angels.
Verlander is 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA over two starts against Los Angeles this season and 7-8 with a 3.55 ERA over 18 starts in his career. While pitching for the Astros on Sept. 12, Verlander tossed eight shutout innings in Anaheim, allowing just one hit.
The Angels will counter with right-hander Garrett Richards (0-2, 2.00 ERA).
The injury-plagued Richards has made just four starts in 2017 and 10 total over the past two seasons. He took a 1-0 loss against the Astros on Sept. 12 despite allowing just a run on four hits and no walks over five innings.
For his career, Skaggs is 5-4 with a 3.58 over 13 appearances (10 starts) against Houston.
The Angels (76-76) will arrive in Houston reeling from four consecutive losses and facing a 2 1/2-game deficit behind the Twins in pursuit of the second American League wild card. The Texas Rangers are also 2 1/2 games back of Minnesota.
The Twins had lost five of six games before beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday.
After losing the past three games to the visiting Cleveland Indians, including a 4-1 setback on Thursday, the Angels now need help.
“That’s neither here nor there, that’s a distraction,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We know we do (have to rely on other teams), but we have to focus on our nine innings, what we need to do on the field, don’t be distracted by numbers and this and that and where teams are and who’s playing who. We’ll figure that out after our game.
“What we need to do is go out there and start to get games on our terms, and part of it’s on the offensive side and we’ve struggled a little bit. The only way we can change the momentum is to focus on how we need to play the game and what we need to do. That’s what we’re going to do when we get on this plane to Houston and hopefully pick it up (Friday).”
The Astros’ motivation for the remainder of the regular season involves the race for the top record in the AL and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Houston sits 2 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the league’s top spot.