LEADING OFF: Astros on verge of clinch, Cards baffling Cubs

Sports

St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna (23) leans into the ivy after catching a fly ball hit by Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant to end the seventh inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

A look at what’s happening around the majors today:

TEXAS ONE-STEP

The Astros can clinch a third straight AL West title with a win over the Angels or a loss by Oakland. Houston has won six straight games and is already assured a postseason spot, and it’s getting shortstop Carlos Correa in the swing of things at just the right time. Correa homered twice Friday in his second game after missing nearly a month with a sore back, and he finally looks healthy after missing 80 games total with various injuries.

“We can feel it,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “We’re excited. We all are anxious about things right now which is normal because we want to make it happen.”

CENTRAL CONTROL

The NL Central-leading Cardinals are sending another red-hot pitcher to the Wrigley Field mound with a chance to ensure a series victory in their crucial four-game set against the Cubs. Right-hander Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35) is 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA in his last seven starts. That’s bad news for slumping Chicago, which has totaled nine runs while losing four straight games. St. Louis won the first two games of the series, and its starters have given up two runs in 12 innings — including eight one-run innings from emerging ace Jack Flaherty on Thursday.

The Cubs are two games behind Milwaukee for the second NL wild card and five back of St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They will start left-hander Jose Quintana (13-8, 3.35), pitching on an extra day of rest after Chicago shuffled its rotation to let veteran Cole Hamels rest his fatigued left shoulder.

The Brewers again face Pittsburgh, with right-hander Zach Davies (10-7, 3.70) facing Pirates rookie righty James Marvel (0-2, 9.00).

ON THE LINE

Stephen Strasburg tries to strengthen his NL Cy Young Award case and help the Nationals regain their cushion in the wild-card standings with a start against Miami. Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) leads the NL in wins, and his 235 strikeouts trail only Mets ace Jacob deGrom (239), the reigning Cy Young winner who is also Strasburg’s stiffest competitor this year, along with teammate Max Scherzer. Washington leads Milwaukee for the top NL wild card by a game, and it’s now out of the running for the NL East after Atlanta clinched that title Friday night.

LET’S GET WILD

The A’s remain two games ahead of the Rays and Indians for the top AL wild card and are set to continue a home series against Texas. Cleveland, which got a save from Carlos Carrasco on Friday night, is set to continue a series against Philadelphia, while Tampa Bay will face the Red Sox with right-hander Tyler Glasnow (6-1) making his third start since returning from a right forearm strain.

NO CHILL

Mets slugger Pete Alonso crushed his major league-leading 50th home run Friday night and is two big swings away from tying Aaron Judge’s 2017 total for the rookie record. Alonso has nine games to catch Judge, and the Polar Bear could get there quick after homering in his past three games. He’ll face Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93), who has allowed a team-high 28 homers this year.

SEPTEMBER SCARE

The Yankees are keeping an eye on Gleyber Torres after his right leg buckled while fielding a grounder Friday night. The Yankee Stadium crowd gasped when Torres went down, and the star second baseman was pulled a bit later in New York’s 4-3 loss to Toronto. He said he felt some weakness in his lower legs, and Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he expects Torres to be OK but pulled him as a precaution. Torres leads the AL East champions with 38 homers and is hitting .284 with 94 RBIs and an .889 OPS.

STRONG RETURN

Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto has thrown 10 scoreless innings since returning from Tommy John surgery, and he may not see Atlanta’s best lineup after the Braves clinched a second straight NL East title Friday night. Cueto returned with five innings of one-hit ball against Pittsburgh on Sept. 10, then shut down Miami for five innings on Sept. 15. The 33-year-old is under contract for two more seasons with San Francisco.

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