(Photo credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)
For one game at least, that ominous dark cloud lifted from above the reeling Houston Astros.
Mauricio Dubon stroked a walk-off single to right field that plated Yainer Diaz with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning on Wednesday for a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. The Astros (85-68)averted a three-game series sweep and stayed atop the American League West standings through an off day on Thursday and into the opener of a three-game set against the Kansas City Royals on Friday.
The Astros had dropped 13 of 18 games at home and fell one game below .500 at Minute Maid Park before rallying to win the finale against Baltimore. The victory felt long overdue for the Astros.
"It was nice to see the guys happy and partying because it's been a morgue in (the clubhouse) the last couple of games," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "That was a huge game."
Houston holds a half-game lead over the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners in the AL West, with those two meeting in a three-game series this weekend in Arlington. A series win over the Royals would do Houston a world of good.
"If we just win, we'll pick up on somebody with Texas playing Seattle," Baker said. "If we just win, we'll pick up on somebody every day."
Left-hander Framber Valdez (12-10, 3.20 ERA) has the starting assignment for Houston on Friday. He defeated the Royals in his previous start on Sunday after limiting them to one unearned run on six hits and one walk with five strikeouts in seven innings during a 7-1 victory. Valdez has been sharp recently, going 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA and .536 opponent OPS over his last five starts.
Valdez is 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA over five career appearances (three starts) against the Royals. Previous to his outing on Sunday, Valdez defeated the Royals 7-4 on June 5, 2022, after allowing two runs on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts over six innings.
Left-hander Cole Ragans (6-4, 3.33 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Royals in the series opener. He is 4-1 with a 2.28 ERA over 10 starts since his acquisition from the Rangers on June 30. Ragans is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA over his last six starts but did not factor into the decision in either of his last two outings, including against the Astros on Saturday when he allowed five runs on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over six-plus innings in the Royals' 10-8 victory.
Ragans is 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA over four career appearances (three starts) against the Astros. Prior to his most recent start against Houston, he surrendered two runs on five hits with three strikeouts over four innings of relief in an 8-2 road loss to the Astros on April 15 while with the Rangers.
The Royals (51-102) started a 5-1 homestand with a pair of wins over the Astros last weekend and capped it with a 6-2 victory over the Cleveland Guardians on Wednesday in what was their seventh win over their last eight games. This is the best stretch for Kansas City since a seven-game winning streak that bridged July and August.
"Pitching is doing an amazing job," said Royals designated hitter MJ Melendez, who walked three times in the finale against the Guardians. "And the hitting, we're doing well with people in scoring position and we're finding ways to get on base."
--Field Level Media