Garrett Richards has been arguably the best pitcher in the AL since the beginning of June, and his workload isn't about to get any more difficult.
Richards and the Los Angeles Angels will try to send the Houston Astros to their seventh straight loss Sunday at Angel Stadium as the clubs complete a four-game series.Richards (9-2, 2.81 ERA) is an AL-best 5-0 over six starts since the beginning of June with a 1.49 ERA and .147 opponent batting average while never allowing more than four hits. Only Felix Hernandez has a better ERA in the AL in that time while Richards' opponent average leads baseball.The right-hander won a personal best-tying third straight start Tuesday, holding the White Sox to three runs and two hits while striking out nine in eight innings of an 8-4 road victory.All the damage came in the first inning before the 26-year-old settled into seven innings of dominance."I think I was the same pitcher from beginning to end," Richards told MLB's official website. "I wasn't going to let three runs in the first ruin my day. I think that's the maturing process that I've gone through as a pitcher, and I'm happy with the direction I'm moving."Richards is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts this season against Houston, the latest of which got his unbeaten streak rolling. Chris Carter, who clubbed a grand slam Saturday, is 6 for 15 with a home run against him.Astros starter Collin McHugh has been headed in the other direction with losses in a career-worst four straight starts. He's winless over his last five with a 4.45 ERA and 17 walks. While control has been an issue, McHugh (4-7, 3.22) hasn't been especially hittable, with a .194 opponent average and 35 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.The right-hander surrendered five runs and five hits while walking four and fanning eight in six innings of Monday's 10-4 loss to Seattle."I think I looked up at one point and had thrown 27 balls and 26 strikes," McHugh said. "If you've seen me throw for a while, it's not the way I like to attack. It's not the way I like to pitch."The 27-year-old has faced the Angels twice this season, going 1-1 with two earned runs and six hits allowed over 12 innings. Albert Pujols is 2 for 6 with a home run in the matchup.Los Angeles (50-36), the second AL team to 50 wins behind West-leading Oakland, has won 12 of 15 and is in position for its third sweep in five series after Saturday's 11-5 victory. The Angels trailed 5-1 after three innings but hung eight on the Astros (36-53) in the seventh with homers from Pujols, C.J. Cron and David Freese."It doesn't matter who we're facing," Pujols said. "... Our goal is not to concentrate on who's on the mound. It's to go out there and have quality at-bats against anybody."Pujols is 7 for 13 with five RBIs through the first three games of the series to boost his average to .265, which is higher than it's been since he entered May 27 at .267. Howie Kendrick has been even better with eight hits in the series and an 11-for-19 stretch over five games.In the 15-game run, the Angels have hit .296 with 91 runs scored, both MLB bests.Houston's Jose Altuve, meanwhile, has gone hitless in consecutive games for the first time since April 22-23.Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen Saturday by acquiring left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher from Arizona along with outfielder Tony Campana for outfielder Zach Borenstein and minor league right-hander Joey Krehbiel.Thatcher was 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA with 25 strikeouts and three walks in 37 games for Arizona this season.
Collin McHugh is throwing breaking pitches 50 percent of the time this season, third most often among pitchers with at least 10 starts. Mike Trout ranks third in the league with a .358 average against breaking balls from righties; Howie Kendrick ranks 17th at .313, while Albert Pujols ranks 136th (out of 167) at .183.