Angels brace for Astros, Verlander

Justin Verlander needed to be especially sharp for the Houston Astros to beat the Los Angeles Angels twice in their playoff run last September.

Both times he was matched against fellow right-hander Garrett Richards, and each time he came through for his new team, shutting out the Angels on one hit deep into both victories to help smother their postseason hopes.

Verlander and Richards are scheduled to go head-to-head again Wednesday night in the finale of a three-game series at Angel Stadium.

The Astros (27-17) lead the Angels (25-17) by one game for first place in the AL West.

Los Angeles starting pitchers have dominated the series.

Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney allowed one run in eight innings in a 2-1 victory Monday night, and Los Angeles rookie Jaime Barria gave up one run over seven innings Tuesday, but the Astros came from behind against the bullpen and evened the series with a 5-3 victory.

The other bright spot for the Angels has been left fielder Justin Upton, who hit his seventh home run of the month Tuesday night for an early 2-0 lead.

“Right now, when (Upton) gets a pitch to hit, he’s putting a good swing on it,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters after the game.

A night after Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun had a key assist in the ninth inning of the one-run win, Houston right fielder Josh Reddick threw out a runner at third and home.

“When he’s given a chance to throw a guy out, he’s usually on the money,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch told reporters after the game.

Verlander (4-2, 1.21 ERA) enters this matchup with a hotter hand than Richards, but overdue for some offensive support.

Verlander has made three starts in May and allowed a total of two runs over 20 innings, lowering his league-leading ERA, but he’s 0-2 for the month and the Astros dropped his other start as well.

He blanked the New York Yankees for eight innings May 1, but six pitchers combined to shut out the Astros 4-0. He then allowed one earned run over six innings in each of his past two starts, but was supported by a total of one run.

Verlander wasn’t as sharp against Los Angeles in a 5-2 win in Houston on April 25, but was still very good, allowing two earned runs in seven innings. He improved to 3-0 against the Angels with a 0.82 ERA since he was traded to Houston on Aug. 31 of last season.

Verlander and Richards were the starting pitchers on Sept. 12 at Angel Stadium. Verlander threw eight shutout innings in the 1-0 win that dropped Los Angeles two games back of the final wild card spot.

They went head-to-head again 10 days later in Houston and Verlander threw seven shutout innings in the 3-0 victory.

Before his trade from the Detroit Tigers, Verlander wasn’t nearly as dominant against the Angels, owning a 6-8 record and 3.79 ERA in 17 starts.

Even with the strong start at Angel Stadium in September, Verlander is 3-5 at Angel Stadium with a 5.15 ERA.

Verlander has faced 11 current players for Angels and they’re batting a combined .128. Los Angeles center fielder Mike Trout is among those who have struggled against Verlander, coming in 2-for-23 in his career, but both hits were home runs.

Richards (4-1, 4.08) is 5-4 with a 3.28 ERA in his career against Houston.

The Angels have scored at least four runs in seven of his eight starts.