HOUSTON -- Seeking their third consecutive series sweep of their American League West rivals, Houston sends right-hander Mike Fiers to the mound against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, with Fiers' recent struggles playing a contrasting role in the Astros' overall aspirations.
Fiers (6-4, 4.75 ERA) is 0-1 with a 17.18 ERA against the Angels this season, having allowed seven runs on eight hits and two walks over 3 2/3 innings in a 7-2 loss on May 27, the Astros' lone loss in the season series. He is 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three career starts against the Angels.
How Fiers has pitched recently is cause for speculation. Over his last four starts, Fiers is 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA with batters posting a .939 OPS against him during that stretch. Fiers failed to escape the fourth inning in each of his last two starts, and with former starter Scott Feldman thriving as a reliever (4-1, 1.62 ERA), clamoring has begun for Feldman to replace Fiers which in turn has sparked assumptions that Sunday could mark Fiers' last shot to keep his spot in the rotation.
"I don't know if I would title it make-or-break," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "This time of year as the rumors start creating about what type of players we can add internally or externally, the players probably have a little added adrenaline and added importance to their outings. Mike Fiers has been a good pitcher in this league and has had a number of good games this year. So I wouldn't title anything make-or-break because decisions aren't made that absolute prior to starts.
"We'd like him to throw well and pitch a little bit deeper into games and part of that is being efficient in the first couple of innings and getting into the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. We'd like him to do well, but it'd be unfair to him to put that much attention on his start."
The Angels (43-54) counter with right-hander Tim Lincecum (2-3, 6.59 ERA), who will make his seventh start of the season. In his third start June 28, Lincecum allowed five runs on seven hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to the Astros at Angel Stadium.
In 10 career starts against Houston, Lincecum is 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA.
The most pressing issue for the Angels is their extended losing streak against the Astros (53-44), which reached 10 games with their 7-2 setback on Saturday night. The streak is the Astros' longest against a single opponent since a 12-game run against the Phillies and Reds spanning the 2004-05 seasons. The last team to win 10 consecutive games against the Angels was the Red Sox from July 19, 1993-July 4, 1994.
"I don't know. It's kind of a spell of bad luck," Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun said. "They play well against us, and we are not swinging the bats here like we should be."