Astros seek best AL record with White Sox in town

HOUSTON -- Now that their pursuit of the American League West pennant is complete, the Houston Astros can focus their attention on two final issues as the regular season winds down.

With 13 games remaining, the Astros (91-58) stand just 1 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the chase for the best record in the AL and home-field advantage in the postseason. The Indians own the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 5-1.

Of equal significance for Houston is the need to get All-Star right-hander Lance McCullers healthy. Astros brass had hoped to have McCullers available to start the series opener against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park, but after he tossed a bullpen session on Saturday, McCullers remains sidelined by arm fatigue, the latest in a long string of issues.

McCullers hasn't recorded a victory since June 24 against the Seattle Mariners and has started just one game since the end of July.

Despite missing the entire month of August with back discomfort, McCullers wasn't rested enough to bounce back from his Sept. 6 start at Seattle. McCullers figures to slot in behind right-hander Justin Verlander and lefty Dallas Keuchel in the postseason rotation, but his continued arm problems have cast that scenario in serious doubt.

"We want him to look right and feel right and feel strong," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of McCullers, who will continue throwing bullpen sessions. "At this juncture of the season, we don't have a lot of time for mistakes. We want to make sure he gets off the mound with some energy, with some effort and just looks the part to be able to compete at this level.

"He's feeling OK, but OK right now is not good enough to pitch him in a game."

Instead of McCullers, the Astros will send right-hander Collin McHugh (2-2, 3.61 ERA) to the mound on Tuesday. For McHugh, it will be his first appearance since leaving his Sept. 8 start at Oakland with a right middle finger avulsion.

McHugh is 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA over four career starts against the White Sox, including a 7-1 loss on Aug. 9 when he allowed seven runs on nine hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. It was his fourth start after being activated from the 60-day disabled list. He had been sidelined due to a right elbow impingement.

The White Sox (60-89) will counter with rookie right-hander Lucas Giolito (2-2, 2.56 ERA), who is looking to post his first career road victory and fourth quality start in six outings this season.

He has never faced the Astros.

Giolito, acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton blockbuster trade last offseason, is one of a bevy of touted prospects Chicago has amassed to fuel a rebuild. Chicago has promoted several of those youngsters in order to give them a taste of life in the majors.

"Really promising," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said to "I think we were really excited from the moment they got here, and we were excited when we acquired them. We hope it's going to be something we can continue to build on through September."
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