Baseball / Sports

Angels grounded by Houston Astros, 4-1

HOUSTON -- This is why the Angels tempered their enthusiasm after completing a four-game sweep of Oakland on Sunday, marking the occasion with statements such as "There's a lot of baseball left" and "We can't get too excited yet." They know how quickly things can turn.

With nine of 10 games on a four-city trip to Houston, Minnesota and Texas -- teams that entered the week a combined 68 games under .500 -- the Angels had an excellent chance to pad an American League West lead that swelled to five games on Sunday.

Or so it seemed.

Chris Carter hit a two-run home run and a solo shot, giving him 35 homers on the season, and right-hander Collin McHugh shut down the Angels again in a 4-1 victory that sealed the Astros' two-game sweep of the Angels in Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night.

Not exactly a rousing start to the trip for the Angels, whose only consolation was that their division lead still stood at 41/2 games after the Athletics lost two of three to Seattle.

"You have to come in and not take teams like this for granted," said Angels ace Jered Weaver, who took the loss despite a solid six-inning, two-run, five-hit effort.

"It's the major leagues. Any team can win at any time. We still have to go out and perform. Luckily, the A's lost a couple as well, so it doesn't hurt us too bad, but it would have been nice to get a couple of wins here and extend the lead a little."

McHugh wouldn't let them Wednesday night, limiting the Angels to one run and four hits in 72/3 innings, striking out eight and walking none to improve to 4-0 with a 1.79 earned-run average in seven starts since the beginning of August and 2-2 with a 1.90 ERA in four starts against the Angels this season.

"He threw the ball well," said Angels leadoff batter Kole Calhoun, who had two of his team's four hits. "He mixed his pitches, threw strikes, attacked the zone, all the stuff you have to do to be successful. We didn't swing the bats very well."

Middle-of-the-order hitters Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton combined to go one for 24 with six strikeouts in the series, in which the Angels went one for 14 with runners in scoring position.

Third baseman David Freese, after taking Tuesday off to work with hitting coaches Don Baylor and Dave Hansen, was hitless in three at-bats Wednesday, dropping him to 0 for 20 in his last six games and to .247 on the season.

Freese hit .330 in a 25-game stretch from July 31-Aug. 26, raising his average from .239 to .261, but Manager Mike Scioscia will have little choice but to use newly acquired Gordon Beckham, who had three hits Tuesday night, at third more often.

"We still have high hopes that David will be a big part of our offense, because when he's right, he's an RBI machine," Scioscia said. "We're definitely hopeful that he's going to contribute the way he can, but if we have to mix and match a bit to get him going or to get a little more offense, we will."

The Astros lost 111 games in 2013 but still won 10 of 19 games against the Angels. The Angels have won 10 of 16 games against Houston this season, but the fourth-place Astros gave them fits this week.

"It doesn't matter what a team's record is -- it comes down to who's on that mound and a lineup that can beat a club on any given night," Scioscia said. "Houston took it to us last year, and they've played us tough this year."

Astros 4, Angels 1

KEY MOMENT: Jose Altuve hit a one-out double to left field in the eighth inning and Chris Carter hit a two-out home run to right against reliever Fernando Salas to extend a 2-1 Astros lead to 4-1. It was Carter's second home run of the game, his 35th this season -- the third-most in the major leagues behind Miami's Giancarlo Stanton (36) and Baltimore's Nelson Cruz (36) -- and his 11th in the last two years against the Angels.

AT THE PLATE: The Angels scored in the third inning when Efren Navarro and Kole Calhoun singled and shortstop Jonathan Villar booted Mike Trout's potential inning-ending double-play grounder for an error. The Angels had two on with one out after the miscue but Albert Pujols struck out looking at a slow curve and Josh Hamilton flied to center field.

ON THE MOUND: Jered Weaver (15-8) gave up two runs and five hits in six innings, one coming on Carter's towering home run that barely cleared the wall in left field in the second inning. "That's why I like pitching in Anaheim," Weaver said of the Angels' pitcher-friendly park. "I thought he mis-hit it off the end of the bat, but he's as strong as an ox." Angels reliever Jason Grilli threw a scoreless seventh. Chad Qualls threw a one-two-three ninth for his 17th save.

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