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Athletics in Houston for big AL West showdown

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The Oakland Athletics took three of four from Minnesota this weekend while the Astros completed a sweep of the Angels. The puts Houston a mere one and a half games ahead of Oakland in the AL West, setting the stage for the final head-to-head series between the two clubs.

These two teams met last weekend in Oakland with the A’s taking two of three. Now the series shifts to Houston, kicking off tonight with Brett Anderson — who has not allowed a run in his past two starts and is on a streak of 17 consecutive scoreless innings — taking on Gerrit Cole. On Tuesday it’s Edwin Jackson vs. Charlie Morton. On Wednesday it’s Trevor Cahill vs. Dallas Keuchel.

The Athletics were double digits out of first place as late as July 10 but in the past nine days have tied the Astros in the standings on three occasions before falling just a bit back. A sweep by either team would certainly make a statement. Whether that statement is “we’re not going anyplace, champs” or “know your place, upstarts” remains to be seen, but it’s easily the most important series going on this week.

Braves clinch postseason spot with 10-1 win over Nationals

Dansby Swanson
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The Braves clinched a postseason berth with Saturday’s 10-1 win over the Nationals. Now, the only question is whether they’ll get there with an NL East division title or via one of two wild card spots currently up for grabs.

Granted, things are looking pretty good on the division title front. After losing their second straight game to the Braves, the Nationals sit 10.5 games back of first place in the NL East, and every other division rival is at least 15 games out. The Braves, meanwhile, carry a magic number of four; should they clinch, it’ll be their 19th franchise title and 14th since they migrated to the East division in 1994.

They certainly looked like postseason contenders on Saturday. Mike Foltynewicz led the charge with six innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball, limiting the Nationals to four hits while rookie right-hander Austin Voth kept the Braves scoreless through 5 2/3 frames. Things started to tip in Atlanta’s favor in the sixth inning: Nick Markakis put the team on the board with an RBI single, and a four-run breakout in the seventh helped cement a sizable lead. Over the last three innings, the Braves found opportunity after opportunity against the Nationals’ bullpen, capitalizing on walks, throwing errors, and productive outs as they climbed toward a double-digit finish.

The win didn’t come without some sacrifice, however. The Braves lost Charlie Culberson to a facial injury after he was struck by a Fernando Rodney fastball in the seventh inning, and they’ll likely be without him for the remainder of the regular season — pending a formal diagnosis, of course. Culberson’s loss isn’t the only one the club is feeling right now, either, as Johan Camargo ended his season with a hairline fracture in his right shin and Freddie Freeman is playing through a minor bout of elbow soreness after making an early exit from Friday’s 5-0 shutout.