(Photo credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports)
The Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks are looking to solidify playoff berths during their season-ending three-game series that begins Friday night in Phoenix.
Both clubs have a little breathing room as they focus on locking up their spots.
Houston (87-72) stands 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West but is in much better shape in the wild-card race. The Toronto Blue Jays have a one-game lead over the Astros for the second berth, while Houston is 1 1/2 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the final spot.
The Astros just took two of three in Seattle to strengthen their positioning. Houston was off Thursday.
Arizona (84-75) lost 3-1 to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday afternoon to miss an opportunity to move closer toward sewing up a National League wild-card berth.
The Diamondbacks, who hold the second NL wild-card spot, are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Miami Marlins and two games up on the Chicago Cubs. The Marlins were leading 2-1 in the ninth inning against the New York Mets before the game was suspended by rain Thursday night.
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo viewed Thursday's loss to the White Sox as a missed opportunity.
"Like I've been saying, we have to win every baseball game that we play in -- and we didn't do that today, so there's some frustration," Lovullo said. "We have to be better. We have to be better in all areas. We had some opportunities early, and I felt like if we had scored some early runs it might have been a different story."
Houston's 8-3 victory over Seattle on Wednesday was a pivotal clash. If the Astros had lost, the Mariners would have been nipping at their heels entering the weekend.
"We had to have that game," Houston manager Dusty Baker said after the series finale. "That was another example of how important getaway days are."
Mauricio Dubon hit a three-run homer and Yordan Alvarez and Martin Maldonado belted solo shots. Michael Brantley returned from an eight-game absence due to a knee injury to go 4-for-5.
"We think this game was huge," Maldonado said. "Everybody was talking that we've been here before in this situation -- a must-win game. We went out there and executed from the first at-bat. We followed our game plan and we got the W. We have to take the same thing to Arizona."
Houston had dropped nine of 12 games prior to winning the series from Seattle.
Meanwhile, Arizona had won eight of 10 games prior to Thursday's setback. The Diamondbacks beat the White Sox 15-4 and 3-0 in the first two games of the series but had just three hits in the finale.
All-Star outfielder Corbin Carroll had two of the hits, including a triple that made him the first player in major league history to have at least 10 triples, 25 homers, 25 doubles and 50 stolen bases in a season.
The Diamondbacks send All-Star right-hander Zac Gallen (17-8, 3.49 ERA) to the mound on Friday. Gallen has struck out a career-high 213 batters.
The NL Cy Young Award candidate is 6-3 over his last nine starts. He blanked the New York Mets on three hits and struck out eight in six innings in a 7-1 victory on Sunday.
Gallen is 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four career starts against the Astros. Chas McCormick (3-for-5) and Jose Altuve (2-for-7) have both homered off Gallen, who has shut down Maldonado (0-for-7).
Houston counters with rookie right-hander J.P. France (11-6, 3.83), who wasn't sharp in his past two starts, both against the Kansas City Royals. France went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA and allowed 12 hits and five walks over 9 1/3 innings.
Earlier this season, France went 7-0 with a 1.85 ERA over an eight-start span from late June to mid-August.
France has never faced the Diamondbacks.
--Field Level Media