In order to have a chance to take the lead in the race for the AL’s second wild-card spot, the Los Angeles Angels will again have to solve Felix Hernandez.
After beating Hernandez for the first time in two years last week, the Angels seek their fourth straight win Saturday against the Seattle Mariners.
Los Angeles (79-74) enters Saturday one-half game behind Houston for the league’s second wild card with nine left in the regular season. That deficit will change before the Angels take the field since the Astros host Texas earlier in the day.
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The Angels, who beat Seattle 8-4 on Friday, are trying for their longest winning streak since a season-high seven-game run July 12-22.
"It’s right where you want to be, definitely," said Albert Pujols, whose 37th homer matched his most since 2011 – his final season with St. Louis.
"But we haven’t earned anything. We’re just playing baseball, and we still have a few games left. We just need to win series and do whatever it takes to come out with the ‘W’ every night, and then we’ll see what happens at the end."
Los Angeles’ attempt to continue rolling, however, may require beating Hernandez (18-9, 3.54 ERA) in back-to-back meetings for the first time since 2006.
The Angels got the better of the Mariners ace in a 4-3 win at Seattle on Sept. 15. The right-hander’s only mistakes in seven innings were a three-run homer by David Murphy in the third and Mike Trout’s solo shot in the sixth.
Hernandez was 6-0 with a 0.74 ERA over his previous nine starts against Los Angeles, including a 2-0 record and 0.82 ERA in five road matchups.
The six-time All-Star enters this outing tied for the most wins in the league, and another would match his career high from 2009. He has two starts left to try to become the Mariners’ third 20-game winner and first since Jamie Moyer had a team-record 21 in 2003.
Hernandez earned a 9-2 win at Texas on Sunday, yielding two runs and matching his season high with five walks before leaving after 5 2-3 innings with a stiff elbow.
"It’s not a big deal. … I’ll be fine," Hernandez said.
He’s struggled with Trout, who is hitting .349 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 63 at-bats against him, including 4 for 14 with two homers this year.
Trout is batting .356 with six homers and 12 RBIs in the past 12 games. He went 3 for 5 with an RBI double in Friday’s opener of this three-game set, giving him a .444 average with seven RBIs over his last seven meeting with Seattle (74-80).
The Angels give the ball to Andrew Heaney (6-3, 3.30), who is 1-3 with a 4.42 ERA over his last 10 starts but has been much better of late.
The rookie left-hander allowed two runs and two hits with six strikeouts in six innings of Saturday’s 4-3 win in 12 at Minnesota, six days after tossing five scoreless innings and not getting a decision in a 5-3 loss to Houston.
Heaney is a candidate to start a potential wild-card game depending on the status of Garrett Richards, who could pitch the regular-season finale at Texas on Oct. 4.
"We’re not gonna hold anything back to get to the part we need to," manager Mike Scioscia told MLB’s official website. "Garrett’s definitely stepped up and thrown the ball – with Andrew Heaney – as well as anybody we have in our rotation."
Heaney was terrific at Seattle on July 12 with seven shutout innings in a 10-3 win.