HOUSTON -- Even in advance of the Houston Astros' 3-2, walk-off victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night, Houston manager A.J. Hinch had been repeatedly fielding questions over the pending significance of his club reaching .500 following a miserable opening month of the season.
When the Astros (36-36) hit that plateau in the second game of their series with the Angels (31-40), Hinch did his best to downplay the minor achievement.
"Well it's one game better than when we started today," Hinch said. "Obviously I understand the place marker that happens given how our season started. If you would have told me we'd be .500 on this date at the beginning of the season we would have said we should be better. So I want to keep it in proper perspective. Yes I'm happy with how we've continued to grind, continued to play. We've showed some personality.
"We've done everything we can to inch back to relevance but this isn't going to accomplish anything. It's a good milestone because of how the season started. We've got a tough game tomorrow that we need to focus on and be better."
The Astros will pursue a series sweep and a 5-1 homestand with right-hander Lance McCullers (3-2, 4.24 ERA) on the mound. McCullers will make his first start of the season against the Angels, against whom he went 1-1 with a 2.52 ERA during his rookie season. McCullers has struck out at least six batters in six consecutive games and will seek the continue the momentum established by fellow rotation right-handers Doug Fister and Collin McHugh, who have allowed a combined four earned runs in 14 innings in the first two games of this three-game set.
For the Angels, suffering a sweep would drop them five games behind the Astros in the loss column. With the streaking Rangers attempting to run away with the American League West title, another division loss would only further undermine the Angels' chances at working their way back into contention.
Right-hander Matt Shoemaker should give them a solid shot against the Astros. Shoemaker (3-7, 4.50 ERA) has pitched to a 2.19 ERA across his last seven starts, posting 60 strikeouts against only four walks.
In his previous outing against the Astros Shoemaker dominated, allowing two runs on seven hits with 11 strikeouts over 8 1/3 innings. He was responsible for the Angels' lone win of their first series against the Astros, and Shoemaker is 2-1 with a 4.55 ERA in six games against Houston.
Facing the specter of falling 10 games below .500, the Angels need Shoemaker to give them what left-hander Hector Santiago produced on Tuesday night: a strong start. Santiago allowed just one run while pitching into the seventh inning, and while closer Huston Street proved unable to protect the one-run lead he was handed in the ninth inning, the Angels got the sort of pitching they desired to remain competitive.
"Obviously, the final outcome isn't what we wanted, but Cam (Bedrosian) did a great job to go in there and get what we wanted," Santiago said. "(Fernando) Salas did a great job. We did a great job defensively."