Astros-Athletics Preview

Perhaps Collin McHugh is just the pitcher the Houston Astros need to end their struggles in Oakland and avoid possibly falling into a tie for the AL West lead.

Looking to continue his stellar stretch, the right-hander tries to help the Astros prevent being swept by the last-place Athletics on Wednesday night.

Houston (75-64) has held sole possession of the division lead since July 28 when it was tied with the Los Angeles Angels. However, if the Astros drop their sixth straight at Oakland and Texas wins at Seattle on Wednesday night, they would fall into a virtual tie for the West lead with the surging Rangers.

''You tell them this is an opportunity to play (Wednesday),'' manager A.J. Hinch said after Tuesday's 4-0 loss. ''We're not going to carry any baggage with us. The drama surrounding multiple losses in a row, it certainly hurts. Our guys know what's at stake. Our guys are ready to play.''

A day after falling 10-9 in the opener, the Astros were held to five hits by Sonny Gray. A loser in seven of 11, Houston has been held to one or no runs three times during its five-game skid at Oakland (60-79).

However, the Astros should feel confident behind McHugh (15-7, 3.75 ERA). He's 3-2 with a 1.54 ERA in his last six starts, and the best of that stretch came Friday when he allowed seven hits in 7 2-3 innings of an 8-0 win over Minnesota.

''He's been terrific, specifically in the second half,'' Hinch said. ''For him it's pitch execution. He's got so many different ways to get guys out and he's been very creative with his pitches. He's had better finish as the season's gone on.''

McHugh and 17-game winner Dallas Keuchel are the first Astros pitchers to win at least 15 games in the same season since Roy Oswalt won 20 and Andy Pettitte had 17 during the club's 2005 run to the NL pennant.

''When you get ahead of guys you've got to be able to put guys away,'' McHugh said. ''Whether it's a curveball, whether it's cutters or high fastballs, we've been able to execute pretty well in all phases of the game when it comes to that.''

He's 1-1 with a 2.31 ERA against the A's this season.

Mark Canha is 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against McHugh, but belted a three-run homer Tuesday. The rookie first baseman is 9 for 20 with three homers, six RBIs and six runs scored in the last five games.

Perhaps the best of Aaron Brooks' six career starts came Aug. 6 when the right-hander gave up a run, four hits and struck out seven in seven innings of a 5-4, 10-inning home loss to Houston.

''He pitched great,'' Oakland manager Bob Melvin said after that contest. ''That's all you can ask at that point. It would have been nice to reward him."

Brooks (1-2, 6.91), however, was far from great Friday when he allowed six runs and six hits in 2 1-3 innings of an 11-8 loss to Seattle.

All-Star Jose Altuve went 1 for 3 against Brooks last month but is batting .154 in the last six games.

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