Two teams concerned about key injuries will go head-to-head again Saturday afternoon in a game with American League West-clinching and AL wild-card-chasing significance when the Houston Astros visit the Oakland Athletics.
The first-place Astros (91-63) saw their magic number to clinch the AL Weststay at three Friday when they were drubbed 14-2 by the third-place A's (83-71) while the second-place Seattle Mariners (85-69) were winning on the road against the Los Angeles Angels.
Houston can clinch no worse than a title for the West crown with a win Saturday coupled with a Seattle loss to the Angels. An Astros win also would formally eliminate Oakland from contention in the West.
At this point, the A's are more focused on the wild-card race, where five games separate the Boston Red Sox (88-66), New York Yankees (87-67), Seattle, Toronto Blue Jays (85-69) and Oakland in a duel for two spots.
The A's benefitted Friday when the Astros placed staff ace Zack Greinke on the injured list with a sore neck. The veteran admitted before the game that his goal now is to be ready for the playoffs.
"Just trying to get ready for the playoffs and hopefully help the team out there as much as possible," he said. "I might still be able to help in a smaller fashion, but still be just as valuable, hopefully."
The Astros are expected to turn to left-hander Framber Valdez (11-5, 3.07 ERA) on Saturday. The 27-year-old threw seven shutout innings in a 10-0 road win over the Angels on Monday.
Valdez will be making his second start against the A's this season, having been roughed up for six runs (five earned) in five innings in a 9-6 home win in July. He did not get a decision in the outing, leaving him 0-1 with a 4.24 ERA in four career games, including two starts, against the A's.
Whether Valdez sees A's spark plug Josh Harrison remains up in the air. Oakland's leadoff hitter was involved in one of the longest -- and most painful -- plate appearance of the major league season in the seventh inning Friday.
Batting with two on, one out, and the A's leading 3-2, Harrison saw 13 pitches from Astros reliever Yimi Garcia, one that he fouled off the bare right hand of Houston catcher Martin Maldonado and two that he fouled off his own left shin and left ankle.
All three incidents caused a delay in the game.
Harrison eventually drew a walk, sparking a six-run uprising in a plate appearance that A's manager Bob Melvin labeled "the biggest of the game."
"We'll see," Melvin responded afterward about Harrison's status for Saturday. "He fouled the ball off every part of his body except for where he has (a protective) guard. So maybe he wears a (catcher's) shin guard (Saturday) when he hits."
A key head-to-head when the Astros bat will be Oakland's Sean Manaea (10-10, 4.05 ERA) against Houston outfielder Kyle Tucker, who already has three home runs this season against the left-hander.
Manaea will be looking for his first win of the year against the Astros after two earlier losses and two no-decisions in four starts during which he allowed 13 runs (12 earned) and 26 hits in 23 1/3 innings. Jason Castro and Jose Altuve also homered off him.
In 17 lifetime starts against Houston, the 29-year-old has gone 3-7 with a 3.60 ERA.
--Field Level Media