Astros aim for playoff clincher vs. Rangers

The Houston Astros are one win away from clinching a postseason berth and officially staking their bid for a second World Series championship in three seasons.

Houston defeated the visiting Texas Rangers 4-1 Tuesday in the opener of a two-game set that will conclude the season series between the American League West rivals.

With another victory Wednesday, the Astros (99-53) would wrap up a third consecutive 100-victory campaign. Houston's magic number to clinch a third successive division championship is three.

The Cleveland Indians' 7-2 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday kept the Astros from officially sealing a playoff spot, but a victory over the Rangers on Wednesday would enable Houston to do so.

"We've played with a sense of urgency even when others were telling us we don't have to," Astros manager A.J Hinch said. "We're trying to win as many games as we can. What comes with that is great. We obviously want to win the division first; that's something that we've talked about all year, and then we'll get to whatever is next for us.

"The attitude, the energy, the way we go about our business here with these players, I couldn't be prouder of this group. I can't wait to get to the ballpark (Wednesday) and try to win another game."

Houston right-hander Gerrit Cole (17-5, 2.62 ERA) will start the series and season finale against the Rangers.

Cole needs eight strikeouts to become the third pitcher in franchise history to reach the 300-strikeout plateau in a season. He would join J.R. Richard (313 in 1979, 303 in 1978) and Mike Scott (306 in 1986) in that fraternity.

Cole leads the majors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.7) for a second consecutive season and is 13-0 with a 1.85 ERA in his past 19 starts. Houston is 17-2 in those games. Cole has 192 strikeouts over 126 2/3 innings in that span.

In his most recent outing, Cole allowed just run, which was unearned, while striking out 11 over eight innings in a 4-1 win at Kansas City on Friday.

Cole owns a 4-2 record with a 3.98 ERA in nine career starts vs. Texas. He has struggled against the Rangers this year, going 1-2 with a 6.45 ERA in three starts.

Right-hander Kolby Allard (4-0, 4.34 ERA) will start for the Rangers on Wednesday. Texas has won each of his past six starts, with Allard posting a 4.36 ERA while issuing 11 walks over 33 innings.

Acquired from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for reliever Chris Martin on July 30, Allard will make his first career appearance against Houston.

For the Rangers (74-78), averting a nine-game season sweep at Minute Maid Park would make for small consolation in what has been a difficult matchup against their in-state rivals.

Houston long ago claimed the season series, and with a 12-6 mark against Texas, has done so to the tune of a plus-30 run differential. The Rangers would like to conclude the Silver Boot Series on a high note Wednesday, and after so many aggravating defeats, Texas knows the challenge intimately.

"That lineup over there, if you make one mistake, they make you pay," Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. "That's what this team does. If you don't get them early, you typically don't get them."

--Field Level Media
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