Oakland welcomes in Astros for three-game set

Oakland Athletics will host battered Astros looking to gain ground in AL West

OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics are 7 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West division standings, but they’ll get a chance to shrink that gap as the two teams open a three-game series on Friday at the Coliseum.

The A’s found themselves in the division cellar just two weeks ago, but a long winning streak helped them climb all the way up to second place. They’re also tied with the Boston Red Sox for the second American League Wild Card, with a 29-27 record.

Oakland’s winning streak was snapped this week with losses to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday and Wednesday, but they’ll try to start a new one against an Astros club that’s missing several stars from its lineup. Second baseman and former MVP Jose Altuve is out with a leg issue, outfielder and 2017 World Series MVP George Springer is on the shelf with a grade 2 hamstring strain and All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa went on the injured list this week with a fractured rib. Infielder Aledmys Diaz is also on the IL with a hamstring strain.

Those injuries don’t mean the Astros should be taken lightly, though. Even without all four of those key hitters, they still took two out of three games against the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs last week. The remaining lineup is led by third baseman Alex Bregman, who finished fifth in MVP voting last season, and All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley, who is batting .330 this year.

On top of those names, the A’s will face starting pitcher Brad Peacock on Friday’s opener. The right-hander has allowed just one run total over his last four starts, spanning 23 innings, with 32 strikeouts along the way. However, the A’s knocked him around when they saw him in early April, scoring five runs on seven hits in five innings. Peacock also threw a scoreless inning of relief against Oakland in mid-April.

The A’s will counter with Mike Fiers on the mound. The right-hander has a 2.84 ERA over his last five starts, including his no-hitter in early May. The last time he started against the Astros, in early April, he finished with his worst outing of the season, allowing six runs and getting knocked out in the second inning. For what it’s worth, though, five of those runs were driven in by Diaz and Correa, who won’t be playing on Friday.

Oakland’s lineup is also dealing with a key injury, as designated hitter Khris Davis is on the IL with a hip/oblique contusion — he’ll take batting practice before the game — but so far his shoes have been filled admirably by Mark Canha, who has swatted seven homers in his last 14 games. The A’s lineup has scored 97 runs over the last 15 games, an average of more than six per contest, and they’ve slugged 36 homers during that span. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty has reached base in his last 25 games, the longest active streak in the majors.

Niners face Seahawks in key game with postseason implications

The stretch drive is here and the Niners look ready

What we learned from Warriors loss to the Suns

It’s hard to ignore how good Phoenix looked against Golden State