PHOENIX — The Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks remain in playoff position.
It’s just that things have not gone well lately for either contender.
Houston, the runaway leader in the American League West, broke a five-game losing streak Sunday as it prepares for a four-game, home-and-home series against the Diamondbacks starting Monday. The first two games are in Arizona, the last two in Houston.
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The Astros (72-45) have lost nine of their past 12 with shortstop Carlos Correa on the disabled list and the starting pitchers running into some tough sledding, although they have a seemingly impenetrable 12-game division lead over the Los Angeles Angels.
Arizona, which has lost six of eight, finds itself in a more precarious situation. The Diamondbacks (65-52) are tied with Colorado for the two National League wild-card spots but only 4 1/2 games ahead of the surging St. Louis Cardinals and 5 1/2 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Diamondbacks will send ace Zack Greinke (13-5, 3.14 ERA) to the mound to oppose Houston right-hander Collin McHugh (0-1, 5.32) in the series opener Monday.
Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel struck out seven to end the Astros’ skid with a 2-1 victory over Texas on Sunday. He also broke his two-game losing streak.
“It’s amazing how many people start freaking out when you don’t have a couple good starts,” said Keuchel, the only Houston starter who will not face the Diamondbacks in the series.
“The world’s ending or you’re not as good any more. You’re a scrub. Stay the course, and that’s good. That’s what you’ve got to do if you want to last in this game.”
Houston leads the majors in runs, homers and on-base-plus-slugging percentage and has the best road record in the majors at 39-20.
Arizona is 38-22 at home, second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Diamondbacks lost home series to the Dodgers and Cubs last week, and manager Torey Lovullo seemed frustrated after a 7-2 defeat to Chicago on Sunday.
“We are just kind of wandering and drifting through certain segments of the game,” Lovullo said. “There are games where we are sharp and on point. We end up winning those games.
“That is how this game gets at this time of the year. When you make mistakes, good teams are going to capitalize on them. We are going to try and eliminate those drifting moments and stay on point.”
Greinke has made quality starts in three of his last four outings, and he has 13 quality starts this year. He is 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 13 starts at home, his home winning streak broken in a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers in his last start on Tuesday.
Greinke is 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA in eight career starts against the Astros. He faced them once last season, when he gave up four hits and struck out 11 in seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory at Minute Maid Park on June 2.
McHugh is winless in four starts since returning from a right elbow impingement that kept him out for almost four months. He was activated July 22.
McHugh made quality starts in no-decisions against Detroit and Tampa Bay before giving up nine hits and seven runs in 5 1/3 innings of a 7-1 loss at the Chicago White Sox last Wednesday.
McHugh is 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA in four career starts against Arizona. Hs is 3-0 against the Diamondbacks with the Astros.
The Astros expect to have a new face in their bullpen Monday, as right-hander Tyler Clippard was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for a player to be named or cash.
Clippard was with the Yankees until he was traded to Chicago on July 19 in the deal that sent third baseman Todd Frazer to New York. Overall this year, Clippard is 2-6 with three saves and a 4.27 ERA in 51 appearances.