(Photo credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
The anticipated soft spot in the Houston Astros' schedule is turning out to be challenging.
After dropping the first two games in their weekend series against the Kansas City Royals, the American League West-leading Astros will look to avoid being swept Sunday on the road.
It's been a surprisingly difficult week for the Astros (83-66), who were hopeful of extending their lead in the tightly contested AL West.
Instead, the defending World Series champs have lost the first two games at Kansas City (48-101) after dropping two of three against the Oakland Athletics, who have the worst record in baseball at 46-102.
Houston heads into Sunday's game just a half-game in front of the Texas Rangers (82-66) for the division lead.
The Royals, meanwhile, are playing the role of spoiler, having won four straight, including 10-8 on Saturday night.
"These clubs can beat you, too," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "They're big-league players. Yeah, [these games] are missed opportunities, but these [teams], they get up for us. Everyone gets up for us. We have to get even further up to them because we have [four] more games with them, and more big games."
One of the major storylines for the youthful Royals is Bobby Witt Jr., who is on the cusp of becoming the first player in franchise history to have as many as 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season.
Witt on Friday hit his 29th home run, and the 23-year-old shortstop stole his 47th base on Saturday.
"It's very special, but I'm not trying to set it at 30," said Witt, who was 2-for-3 on Saturday. "Just got to keep going and don't really want to set numbers for goals. Because once you achieve them, you don't know where to go after that. So you've got to take it day-by-day."
The pitching matchup on Sunday is Framber Valdez (11-10, 3.32 ERA) for the Astros against Jordan Lyles (4-16, 6.44).
Valdez has been a standout on the road this season, posting a 7-3 record with a 3.71 ERA. In his most recent outing, the left-hander experienced a tough-luck loss, giving up three earned runs in seven innings with 10 strikeouts in a setback to Oakland on Monday.
Before that setback, Valdez had won his previous two starts.
In his career against the Royals, Valdez is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 16 2/3 innings.
Lyles, a 13-year veteran, already has a personal high with his 16 losses, but the one thing the 32-year-old has proved is his durability.
The right-hander will make his 29th start of the season, and he's logged 160 2/3 innings. In 2021, he set a personal best with 180 innings, and a year ago, he was at 179.
In his most recent start, Lyles was tagged for seven earned runs in a no-decision against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday. Lyles' last victory came on Sept. 1, when he beat the Boston Red Sox, giving up two runs with seven strikeouts in eight innings.
At home, Lyles is 2-7 with a 5.06 ERA. Lifetime, he is 2-2 (3.98 ERA) against the Astros.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez exited Saturday's game in the fifth inning after taking a Jose Altuve foul ball off the mask.
Perez's replacement, Logan Porter, hit his first MLB home run, a solo shot in the eighth inning.
--Field Level Media