Astros-Angels Preview

The Associated Press

Many expected the Astros to finish their first season in their new league at the bottom of the AL West. Few foresaw the Angels finishing only one spot ahead of them.

However, that's where the teams currently reside in the standings as they open a three-game series in Los Angeles on Friday night.

The Astros are a major league-worst 39-81, though it hasn't entirely come as a surprise with a young roster geared toward the future. The Angels (54-66), on the other hand, have little excuse for being 15 1/2 games behind front-running Texas despite one of baseball's highest payrolls.

Los Angeles has struggled especially against its own division with am 18-33 mark - the fourth-most intradivisional losses in the majors behind Houston and both Chicago clubs.

The Angels avoided a four-game road sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees on Thursday largely due to the unlikely performance of Chris Nelson in an 8-4 victory. The former Yankee had gone 11 games without an extra-base hit before connecting for his first two homers of the year, including a grand slam.

"It's good to see his bat come alive," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got some pop and he hasn't really shown it this year in the 100 or so at-bats he's had, but you saw it today and hopefully it's a sign of more to come."

Houston lost 5-0 at Oakland on Thursday but wasn't entirely discouraged after taking the first two games of the series. However, the Astros managed only five hits in being shut out for the 12th time this season.

They'll try to extend a 10-start winless stretch for Los Angeles starter Jerome Williams (5-8, 4.85 ERA), who is 0-6 with a 7.35 ERA in that span.

Williams, who has allowed at least four runs in seven of eight outings, appeared headed for his first win since June 12 until the Angels' bullpen buckled in a 6-5 loss at Cleveland on Sunday.

He had allowed one hit through 5 2-3 innings before surrendering four runs, though he still exited with the lead.

"With two outs in the sixth, Jerome just got fuzzy," Scioscia said. "Up until that point, he was in total command. He showed so many good things out there today, even with the way things ended, I thought he pitched a strong game."

The right-hander has experienced some tough luck versus Houston, going 0-1 in two starts this season despite a 2.03 ERA. Astros batters hit just .186 against him in those games.

Houston starter Brad Peacock (1-4, 6.43) also saw a lead evaporate after exiting his most recent start. He was in line for a win before one of the Astros' AL-leading 22 blown saves in a 5-4 home loss to Texas on Saturday.

Peacock gave up a two-run homer to Hank Conger in 1 1-3 innings of relief in a 5-4 win at Los Angeles on June 2.

The 5.27 ERA by Houston's relievers is the worst in baseball, while the Angels also rank near the bottom with a 4.42 mark.

J.D. Martinez is 3 for 6 off Williams.