Morton Exits Early In 6-2 Sweeper
Valdez Steps Up; Magic Number To 3

Morton: Missing time?
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
The Astros closed out their home schedule with a sweep of the Angels from Anaheim Sunday but it did it cost them a top starting pitcher?

Charlie Morton left after just one inning of Sunday's 6-2 victory over the Halos with right shoulder discomfort, the injury that put him on the disabled list four weeks ago. Late word from the Astros is that Morton was removed out of an abundance of caution and he is still expected to make his final start of the regular season in Baltimore before the playoffs begin.

Rookie Framber Valdez simply made the home finale his own, striking out nine in six innings of three-hit relief to claim his fourth big league win. The lefthander gave up a run but still watched his ERA dip to 2.08 and adding his name in the mix for a spot on the playoff roster.

The Angels got a gift from Morton in the first inning when a wild pitch scored Justin Upton from third. Houston challenged the play at the plate which was upheld.

The Champs answered in their half against Tyler Skaggs. Yuli Gurriel, who has been white hot this series, drilled a two-run homer then Evan Gattis singled home Marwin Gonzalez for a 3-1 lead. Gonzalez added his own RBI single in the third and Gattis drove home Gurriel in the fifth.

After Jose Briseno got a run back for the Angels with a solo homer off Valdez in the sixth, Josh Reddick coaxed a bases-loaded walk for a final insurance run. Collin McHugh and Will Harris closed out the sweep before an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 43,247.

With George Springer and Carlos Correa resting, Houston tabulated a dozen hits including three by Gattis and two apiece from Gurriel, Gonzalez and Tyler White.

The win was made sweeter with news that Oakland had lost to Minnesota which drove down the Astros' magic number to three with seven games to play. Any combination of Houston wins or Oakland losses totalling three clinches the division for the Astros. Houston has already clinched a wild card berth but would rather have the safety net of a Division Series to begin their title defense.

With a week still to play, the masterful Houston rotation has set two major league records this weekend. The starting pitchers have struck out more batters (1,071) than any MLB club before. The entire pitching staff also broke a record for the most strikeouts by a team in one season (1,628). Remember, this is happening in the American League where there is a so-called Designated Hitter, not the National League where pitchers are asked to bat regularly.

With the home record in the books at 46-35 (.568), The next three games will take place in Canada where the Gurriel brothers (Yulieski and Lourdes) will be reunited and Roberto Osuna will presumably get his day in court on alleged domestic abuse charges. On the field, lefty Dallas Keuchel (11-11) will try again to take his record beyond the .500 mark when he opposes Marco Estrada (7-13) on Monday in a 6:07 pm Central time opener. The former All-Star is 2-0 with a 3.20 ERA lifetime against the Astros in 13 appearances. Houston's road record, 52-22 (.703) is the best in baseball.

The Astros also claim that righthander Lance McCullers will get into a game in Toronto, further clouding the postseason roster picture. McCullers has not pitched a big league game since August 4th when he suffered pain in his right elbow.

- Bob Hulsey