HOUSTON -- The standard of expectation is so high for the Houston Astros, reigning World Series champions and possessors of the second-best record in baseball, that any unusually poor performance subsequently demands a lengthy explanation from all the involved parties.
On Wednesday, the Astros (95-67) closed their season series against the Seattle Mariners with a thud, suffering a 9-0 loss that matched their largest defeat by margin on the season. Houston suffered a pair of nine-run setbacks in the span of six days in late July and are a robust 35-8 in blowouts (games decided by five or more runs) this season. Yet, with a postseason berth nearly clinched and the hard-charging Oakland Athletics in dogged pursuit for the American League West title and the No. 2 seed in the playoff picture, the timing of the performance troubled.
"September baseball," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, whose club is 13-4 this month. "I know that's kind of a thing this year where everybody is using a lot of pitchers. It's a lot easier to do it in September. It's a challenge. It's no different than when you run into a spot starter, you run into a game where they can utilize their whole bullpen depending on their schedule."
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (14-5, 2.88 ERA) will start on eight days of rest on Friday when the Astros host the Los Angeles Angels for their final series of the regular season at Minute Maid Park. Cole was slated to start on Tuesday against the Mariners but was pushed back in deference to additional rest for the stretch run. He has allowed two runs in each of his last three starts and is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA this month. Cole has faced the Angels three times in 2018, going 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA. He is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA over five career starts against the Angels.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney (9-9, 3.97 ERA) gets the starting nod for the Angels. He faced the Astros in consecutive starts to close August, twirling six shutout innings with six strikeouts in a 5-2 victory at Minute Maid Park on Aug. 30 after surrendering five runs on eight hits and one walk over six innings in a 9-3 loss six days earlier at Angel Stadium. Heaney is 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA over four starts against the Astros this season and 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA against Houston over six career starts.
The Angels (75-78) suffered the worst loss in franchise history on Thursday, falling to the Athletics 21-3 and enabling Oakland to close to within 3 1/2 games of the Astros in the division. They have dropped five of seven games after winning seven of nine to climb back to .500.
The lone interesting footnote for the Angels from their blowout loss to Oakland: Francisco Arcia became the first player in league history to catch, pitch, and homer in the same game. Arcia, who started the afternoon behind the plate, allowed three runs on four hits while pitching the seventh and eighth innings. He then slugged a solo home run, his sixth home run on the season, with two outs in the ninth inning off Athletics right-hander Chris Hatcher.