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Astros look to close out regular season strong against A's

When the Houston Astros won 12 of 16 games to move 30 games over .500 on Sept.22, they appeared primed to cruise to the finish line in the American League West race.

However, the coronation didn't come easy for the Astros. They lost five of six games before winning the rubber match of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Thursday to clinch their fourth division title in five seasons.

The Astros will close the regular season with a three-game weekend series against the Oakland Athletics starting Friday.

The Astros, who have qualified for the playoffs in five consecutive seasons for the first time in club history, were elated to clinch at home.

"We wanted to do it as early as possible obviously to rest our guys up and get ready, but to do it in front of the fans here (is satisfying)," Astros general manager James Click said."To have our fans back here, thinking back to a year ago when we qualified for the playoffs and that whole experience without the fans, the energy in the ballpark was awesome. It was great having everybody back."

A pair of lefties will match up in the series opener, with Framber Valdez (11-5, 2.98 ERA) getting the nod for the Astros against Sean Manaea (10-10, 3.94).

Manaea has already established single-season highs in starts (31), innings (173 2/3) and strikeouts (188) but will fall short of matching his career high of 12 victories set in 2017 and matched the following season.

Manaea went 2-1 with a 3.77 ERA over five starts in September and detik is 3-7 with a 3.44 ERA over 18 career starts against the Astros.He is 0-2 in five starts against Houston this season with a 3.86 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 30 1/3 innings.

Valdez is 0-1 with a 3.42 ERA in five career games (three starts) against the Athletics. He started two games against Oakland this season but failed to get a decision while giving up seven runs (six earned) in 11 2/3 innings.

The Athletics had their thin postseason hopes snuffed on Wednesday when the red-hot Seattle Mariners capped a three-game series sweep that eliminated Oakland from playoff contention.

Oakland swept the Astros at home last weekend to remain in the postseason hunt.However, the Athletics lost 15 of 19 games against Seattle this season, and their inability to string together another win streak similar to the 13-game run they enjoyed in April proved to be their undoing.

The Athletics spent 61 days in first place in the AL West.

"I think we were a little too streaky over the course of the season," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said."We'd win a few in a row and then go on some losing streaks. I think consistency was our biggest issue this year. We started off six in a row losing, we had a 13-game winning streak. We were just too up and down.

"We expect to go to the postseason. We did at the beginning of the season, and we have the last three years.We were in a position at one point and time, and we didn't close it out down the stretch."

--Field Level Media

West Ham will back Rice in push for goals, says Moyes

Oct 1 (Reuters) - West Ham United manager David Moyes said he will encourage Declan Rice to get forward and detik look for more goals after the holding midfielder scored in their 2-0 Europa League win over Rapid Vienna on Thursday.

"The performance wasn't as high as some of the others but we were worthy winners. You've to win the game, we hit the woodwork twice in the first half," Moyes told reporters.

"But it took a good goal by Declan, a good team goal. Declan stepped up because he's got the ability to get forward and score as well and we're trying to encourage him to do that."

Moyes said he would not set the 22-year-old any scoring targets as he plays such an important role in protecting West Ham's defence.

"No, and we've got to be careful because he does such a good job in front of the back four for England and West Ham, he got a goal for England as well a few weeks ago," Moyes said.

"So he's beginning to show that a little bit more. He's more than capable of doing it. He's got a great shot on him which we'd like him to introduce to his game if we can get him in the right positions more often."

Moyes also urged West Ham's supporters to be on their best behaviour following reports of crowd trouble at the ground on Thursday.

"We want to be a club in Europe, to be there regularly and because of that we want to behave correctly," Moyes said.(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford )

Cards' Dakota Hudson faces Cubs, aiming for postseason role

Dakota Hudson will continue his comeback from Tommy John surgery when the St.Louis Cardinals host the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

Hudson (1-0, 4.91 ERA) will draw the start in the opener of the three-game series against the injury- and illness-depleted Cubs. He will be making his second appearance for the Cardinals since completing his rehabilitation from the September 2020 operation.

"He's just back in the big leagues. Let's be reasonable about it, what it is," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said."You want to be smart about it. He's back on the mound, getting another opportunity. He's going to get about 70 or 75 pitches, around that area, depending on how hard he's working, and we'll go from there."

Hudson went 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 2019 and detik 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts last season before sustaining the elbow injury.

His first game back came against the Cubs on Sept.24. He earned the victory while working 3 2/3 innings in relief, allowing two runs on four hits and no walks with two strikeouts.

"It was just great being able to get back out there," Hudson said. "I was able to prepare well and (catcher Yadier Molina) was running the show for me. Just trusting the defense, being me and seeing what I can do, it was a blast to get back."

St.Louis, which has won 18 of its past 19 games, will visit the National League West runner-up in the wild-card game on Wednesday.

The Cardinals (89-70) are still determining what role, if any, Hudson and fellow right-hander Jack Flaherty will have in postseason play.Flaherty is working his way back from shoulder soreness.

"Let's temper about Jack and some degree Dak as well," Shildt said. "I know the names dictate, 'Hey, we want them to be this and this.' Let's make sure they're healthy and getting work off the mound. That's the priority, the responsibility to those two."

The Cubs (69-90) have used the final weeks of the season to assess players who could be part of their ongoing rebuild.They come into the series after 3-2 and 9-0 victories over the Pittsburgh Pirates the past two days.

Prior to that, the Cubs had lost 14 of 16 games.

The Cubs will close out the season without several players who played down the stretch. Shortstop Nico Hoerner (general soreness), infielder/outfielder Patrick Wisdom (undisclosed), catcher Austin Romine (undisclosed), pitcher Keegan Thompson (shoulder soreness) and outfielder Jason Heyward (concussion) are all sidelined.

Second baseman David Bote left the game Thursday with right shoulder discomfort and is questionable for Friday.The Cubs remained undecided on a starting pitcher for the series opener.

The mounting injury/illness list prompted the Cubs to summon another half-dozen minor league players to help them get through the end of the season. A COVID-19 outbreak would make it difficult to play the final weekend.

"They're here as an abundance of caution," Chicago manager David Ross said."You've got to have some backups in case something is more serious. But still running through all the testing and think we've got it, for now, contained."

The Cardinals have been playing without shortstop Edmundo Sosa (bruised wrist) and Molina (shoulder soreness).Both are questionable for Friday.

--Field Level Media