(Photo credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)
The Houston Astros will try to take better advantage of a soft spot in their schedule when they open a three-game series at the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
The Astros (83-64) are coming off a three-game series against the visiting Oakland Athletics, in which they dropped two of three. TheA's and Royals are the only teams in the majors who have lost at least 100 games this season.
Fortunately for the Astros, they left town feeling better about their situation after salvaging a 6-2 win against Oakland on Wednesday.
"That was huge," Astros left fielder Yordan Alvarez said. "For us, we couldn't allow a sweep here at home after losing those first two games, so all the focus was on (Wednesday's) game."
Houston entered Thursday's off day with a one-game lead over the Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners.
The Astros won't face the Rangers the rest of the regular season, but they are scheduled to play three games in Seattle Sept. 25-27, the second-to-last series of the season.
In between, they face the Royals six times and host three games against the Baltimore Orioles, the AL East leaders.
The Astros could soon have valuable relief pitcher Ryne Stanek back after he went down with an ankle injury against the Rangers on Sept. 4.
He threw a light bullpen session before the game on Wednesday and is expected to accompany the Astros on the trip to Kansas City.
"His body will tell us," Houston manager Dusty Baker said. "So far, so good. This guy has made tremendous progress in a short period of time. That last hurdle is usually the toughest. Covering first base, covering home plate, so that's a little ways off."
The Royals (46-101) are feeling confident after taking two of three against the Chicago White Sox earlier this week for their first road series win since mid-May against the San Diego Padres.
Kansas City won its past two games by scoring a combined 18 runs.
Michael Massey has the hot bat for the Royals lately, homering in the past two games to give him 13 on the season.
Massey, a Chicago native, said it's no secret why he plays well against the White Sox.
"I think it always comes down to just my family's here and being comfortable with them the whole week," Massey said.
The Astros plan to start Cristian Javier on the mound in the series opener. Javier (9-3, 4.78 ERA) is 0-1 in his past three starts with a 7.07 ERA.
He most recently allowed four runs and four hits in four innings of a 7-5 win against the Padres in which he did not receive a decision.
Javier is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in three career appearances against the Royals, including one start.
Royals starter Zack Greinke (1-15, 5.47) will be aiming for his first win since May 3 against the Orioles.
The former AL Cy Young winner and six-time All Star is winless in his past 19 outings.
He lasted 3 2/3 innings in each of his past two appearances, losses to the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.
Greinke is 6-4 in 12 career starts against the Astros with a 3.19 ERA.
--Field Level Media