HOUSTON -- After turning the tables on the Cubs by producing a pitching performance on Saturday essentially equal to what Chicago managed in the series opener on Friday night, the Astros set the stage for a rubber match that will not only determine the winner of their final interleague series of the season, but also potentially establish the tone for the final three weeks of their postseason push.
The Astros (75-67) snapped a three-game skid with a 2-1 win Saturday, relying on four hitless innings from their four-headed, right-handed bullpen monster of Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles, and the continuing emergence of rookie infielder Alex Bregman, who bashed his eighth homer to give Houston a lead it would not relinquish.
Much was made of the Astros' 13-game stretch against first-place teams, and while they have four more games remaining before completing that arduous run on the schedule, their effort over the last six games indicates the Astros are invested.
"We know what's ahead of us: It's a race to as many wins as we can get," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't know what's going to happen with the teams ahead of us. We can all predict what we think is going to happen based on schedules and things like that but we need as many wins as we can get. I don't care if we're playing a last-place team right now or a first-place team. There's a sense of urgency that our guys feel that we know we need to win."
Right-hander Mike Fiers (10-6, 4.29 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros against Chicago. Fiers is 3-1 with a 1.71 ERA over five games (four starts) against the Cubs, including a 6-1 win at Wrigley Field on May 2, 2015, in which he recorded 12 strikeouts while allowing one run in six innings while pitching for the Brewers.
The Cubs (90-51) will counter with right-hander Jake Arrieta (16-6, 2.84 ERA), who will be making his first career appearance against the Astros. Excluding the Cubs, Houston is the only team Arrieta (2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in four interleague starts this season) has yet to face in his career.
Despite the loss on Saturday, the Cubs were rewarded by another strong defensive effort from shortstop Javier Baez, who was stellar at third base in the series opener.
Baez cut down George Springer at the plate for the final out of the seventh inning with a precise relay throw from right fielder Jason Heyward to catcher Willson Contreras, who applied the tag on the foot of Springer as he dove for home plate.
While playing second, short and third base, Baez has accumulated 15 defensive runs saved. Not only is he a versatile infielder, Baez is a gifted defensive presence.
"My asking of him has been make the routine play routinely and if it's not there and you have to do something extraordinary, please by all means do that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Baez. "For the most part since we've had that conversation I've seen him do the routine stuff routinely and he still has a flair for the dramatic."