The Houston Astros continue to show the way in the AL West. How they fare on an upcoming road trip may determine if they can remain on top.
Houston begins a 10-game trek against division opponents with Monday's matchup with a sagging Oakland Athletics team that will try to take Mike Fiers out of an outstanding groove.
The Astros start the three-city tour with a three-game lead on surging Texas and visit the Rangers for four critical games after a stop in Anaheim that follows this three-game set. Houston (75-62) gained a little distance on the Rangers with Sunday's 8-5 come-from-behind win over Minnesota coupled with a Texas loss to the Angels.
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Houston scored all its runs after the sixth inning - highlighted by Jed Lowrie's go-ahead grand slam in the seventh - to give Dallas Keuchel his AL-leading 17th win.
While Keuchel has emerged as the unquestioned ace, Fiers (2-0, 2.25 ERA) has given the rotation another strong option since being obtained along with outfielder Carlos Gomez from Milwaukee on July 30.
The right-hander has posted a 0.67 ERA in four starts following the trade, highlighted by a 10-strikeout, 134-pitch no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 21. Fiers showed no effects from the heavy workload next time out, limiting Minnesota to a run and three hits through six-plus innings in a 4-1 win on seven days' rest.
"I felt great," Fiers told MLB's official site. "To get that extra rest after throwing so many pitches helped me out a lot."
Fiers' terrific stretch began in Oakland on Aug. 9, when he allowed Danny Valencia's solo homer among five hits over 6 2-3 innings in his first appearance against the A's.
Oakland (58-79) took three of four in that series but has floundered since, going an AL-worst 7-17 and suffering a fifth straight loss with Sunday's 3-2 defeat to Seattle.
Billy Butler finished 2 for 4 with a solo homer and has been one bright spot during the A's swoon, batting .519 over his last 10 games.
Oakland has homered in 12 consecutive games, the majors' longest active streak. However, Fiers hasn't allowed any in three straight starts.
The A's have won each of Felix Doubront's three starts since he joined the rotation in mid-August. The journeyman left-hander is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA over that span, collecting his first victory with his new team after allowing four runs across six-plus innings in Monday's 11-5 decision over the Angels.
Doubront (2-1, 3.99), one of a club record 28 pitchers used by Oakland this season, also won his lone career meeting with Houston, permitting three runs in 6 2-3 innings with Boston on April 27, 2013.
Colby Rasmus, the only current Astro with more than five at-bats against Doubront, is 7 for 17 with a homer in the matchup.
A's catcher Stephen Vogt is doubtful for the opener after being struck in the groin by a foul ball Sunday. Josh Reddick was out of Sunday's lineup due to illness but pinch hit in the seventh inning.
Houston is 7-6 against the A's this season.