Angels-Astros Preview

The playoff picture remains hazy for the three contending teams in the AL West with only two more weeks of regular-season baseball left.

A three-game series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels beginning Monday night at Minute Maid Park might help provide some clarity.

Texas leads the division by 1 1/2 games over Houston (79-71), which is 2 1/2 ahead of Los Angeles (76-73) for the league’s second wild-card spot. The Angels also must fight off Minnesota, which owns the same record.

A five-game losing streak last week cost the Astros first place in the division, but they seem to be back on track with 10-6 and 5-1 victories against Oakland over the weekend. Colby Rasmus homered twice and George Springer also went deep Sunday, while the Rangers lost for the second time in three days against Seattle.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles fell 8-1 at Minnesota, taking a step back after winning the series’ first three games, including a doubleheader sweep Saturday.

"We’re neck and neck going into the playoff race. That’s what makes today so frustrating," pitcher Matt Shoemaker said. "We win today, we’re obviously in a better position, a four-game sweep on top of that."

"We know that we control our own fate from here on out with the teams that we play from here until the rest of the season," pitcher Garrett Richards told MLB’s official website.

Houston leads the season series 9-7, though the Angels took two of three at home Sept. 11-13.

Dallas Keuchel (17-8, 2.56 ERA) was a loser in the opener of that series, giving up three unearned runs over six innings in the 3-2 defeat, but he was much worse his last time out. He surrendered a career-high nine runs on 11 hits, including three homers, over a season-low 4 2-3 innings in Wednesday’s 14-3 loss at Texas.

"They ambushed him early, and it seemed like every ground ball found a hole, every ball in the air went to the wall or out of the park, which is unusual for Dallas," manager A.J. Hinch said.

Keuchel, who conceded the lead in the AL ERA race to David Price (2.42), is still trying to become Houston’s first 18-game winner since Roy Oswalt went 20-12 in 2005. One thing that could help is being back at Minute Maid Park, where he’s won a club-record 15 in a row and is 13-0 with a 1.49 ERA in 16 outings this year.

Conversely, Jered Weaver (7-11, 4.74) is trying to end his road funk. He’s 1-6 with a 7.40 ERA in his previous seven away starts, though he was successful in his last trip to Houston, yielding two runs over six innings in a 6-3 victory April 17. He’s also won two home matchups with Houston since, including his lone complete game this year May 8.

Weaver was ejected from his last start Wednesday after hitting Kyle Seager, whom he had exchanged words with moments earlier. The right-hander said it was a result of his continued control issues, however.

"I’ve hit more guys in one year than I have in my entire career this year, so the control has not be as good as it has been in the past," he told MLB’s official website. "Hence the five ERA."

Jose Altuve is batting .392 over his last 17 home games and .349 overall in the season series.