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Calif. (AP) — The Houston Astros made themselves at home in
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ANAHEIM Daniel Murphy Jersey ,  California this season, posting a record of 18-5.After punctuating that success with their seventh win in nine games at Angel Stadium, the Astros are ready to take the momentum back home for a critical three-game series against second-place Oakland.Framber Valdez gave up one run over five innings in his first career start, Carlos Correa drove in two runs and the Astros beat the Los Angeles Angels 3-1 on Sunday for their fifth straight win.“I don’t think we need a lot of spark,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “The spark is really trying to finish this off and win the division. Clearly we need to beat Oakland this week. It’s not going to be decided this week. We’ll be ready to play and we’re excited to play those guys, but we have a number of games moving forward that if we continue to play this kind of baseball, I don’t care who we play, we’re going to win.”The Astros went 6-3 during their West Coast road trip and improved to 47-21 away from home. Houston also matched their 1998 counterparts for the best record in franchise history through 130 games at 80-50.Valdez (2-0) struck out three while allowing two hits and three walks in his first career start http://www.nationalsfanproshop.com/authe...ams-jersey , making his case for the spot in Houston’s rotation left vacant because of Lance McCullers Jr.’s forearm injury.Correa had two RBIs on a line-drive single to centerfield with the bases loaded in the third inning that put the Astros in front 2-0. Marwin Gonzalez made it 3-0 with a base hit through the gap at first to score Alex Bregman.Jefry Marte scored on a ground out by Kole Calhoun to cut the lead to 3-1 in the fifth. It was the first earned run allowed by Valdez in 9 1/3 innings this week after making his major league debut at Seattle on Tuesday, and the 24-year-old left-hander got David Fletcher to ground out and end the inning.Roberto Osuna earned his second save with the Astros and 11th of the season, striking out pinch hitter Shohei Ohtani to end the game after hitting Francisco Arcia with a two-out pitch.“The road trip got progressively better all the way around,” Hinch said. “Our bats got better. I think our pitching synced up a little bit. The back of our bullpen was very good, and that’s more of the complete team that we’re used to.”Felix Pena (1-4) gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in six innings, while striking out five.“I thought Felix made some adjustments,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Pena, who has yet to win in seven home starts. “Got his pitch count up there Max Scherzer Jersey , maintained his stuff and gave us a chance to win, so I thought Felix did a good job.”Jose Altuve went 1 for 4 and is batting .350 (7 for 20) with three RBIs in five games following his first-ever trip to the disabled list because of a knee injury. He played despite being hit by a pitch Saturday, the second time he was struck on the left elbow this week.TIP YOUR CAPAlbert Pujols got his 3,082th career hit and passed Cap Anson for sole possession of 23rd place all-time. The single in the sixth inning broke an 0-for-17 slump by Pujols.TROUT TRAPPEDAngels slugger Mike Trout went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and did not reach base for the first time in 13 games. Hinch praised his pitchers for staying out of trouble against Trout, which allowed them to attack up high in the strike zone with two strikes.“You go down in the zone to him, you know you’re asking for it,” Hinch said. “We crowded him one at-bat. We did something different to him almost every at-bat to get to the put-away pitch.”TRAINER’S ROOMAstros: OF George Springer (quadriceps) will return to the starting lineup Monday against Oakland, Hinch said. . Hinch said McCullers is unlikely to return to the starting rotation this season. Hinch said McCullers’ rehabilitation program will slow down because of a “continued lack of progress http://www.nationalsfanproshop.com/authe...ams-jersey ,” and he is not expected to throw off the mound until September.Angels: Ohtani, who has not pitched since June 6 because of an elbow injury, will throw a simulated game Monday.UP NEXTAstros: RHP Gerrit Cole (11-5, 2.73 ERA) will take a 2-0 record with a 2.92 ERA in four starts against Oakland this season into Monday’s opener of a three-game series against the Athletics.Angels: RHP Odrisamer Despaigne (2-2, 6.35), who has lost both starts after being traded from Miami to Los Angeles on Aug. 14, will get the nod against Colorado on Monday. For many years, the Chicago Cubs had to look up to find their rival St. Louis Cardinals in the standings.Times have changed.Chicago (94-66) has a chance to secure its fourth consecutive National League Central title against the Cardinals during the final weekend of the regular season at Wrigley Field. The Cubs’ magic number is two to clinch the division over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers http://www.nationalsfanproshop.com/authe...ams-jersey , who are hosting the Detroit Tigers this weekend.Article continues below ...“Our destiny is in our hands,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told the Chicago Tribune. “If we (pick each other up), we’re going to be in a good spot.”Meanwhile, St. Louis (87-73) is in a much more difficult spot with two games to go.The Cardinals emerged as a legitimate playoff contender after replacing ex-manager Mike Matheny with Mike Shildt, who has led the team to a 40-27 record since taking over just before the All-Star break. But a late-season stumble has pushed St. Louis to the outside looking in when it comes to the wild card.“Clearly, the back is completely against the wall,” Shildt said to reporters after an 8-4 loss in Friday’s series opener.The Cardinals’ task will not get any easier as they go up against Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels on Saturday afternoon.The 34-year-old Hamels is 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA with Chicago and 9-11 with a 3.87 ERA including his time with the Texas Rangers earlier this season. Hamels has allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of 11 starts with the Cubs.In 13 career starts against the Cardinals, Hamels is 4-4 with a 2.79 ERA. He has struck out 87 batters in 84 innings.St. Louis will send out right-hander Miles Mikolas (17-4 Trea Turner Jersey , 2.94 ERA), who has taken over the role of ace and earned a selection to the All-Star Game this summer. The 30-year-old is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his last three outings.Mikolas is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in five games (three starts) against the Cubs during his career. He is the Cardinals’ first pitcher to win 17 or more games in his first season with the club since the late Darryl Kile won 19 games in 2000.Cubs manager Joe Maddon is trying to lead the team to its fourth straight appearance in the NL Championship Series and its second World Series title in the past three years.“It’s a very alert time of the year,” Maddon said. “You’re always on alert. You don’t really let your guard down, ever. …“It’s always good to be able to hold a lead. But when you get to this time a year against really good teams like St. Louis and whomever else we’re going to play, you have this heightened state of alert about your mind and your observations and trying to piece things together. I’d rather you get more mentally alert as opposed to trying to do more physically.”The Cubs are 50-29 at home. The Cardinals are 44-35 on the road.St. Louis holds a 9-8 edge in the regular-season series. Both teams have scored 89 runs against one another.
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