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Newly crowned AL West champion Astros look for

As Houston prepares for the second game of its three-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the Tampa Bay Rays — a rivalry that could play out again in the playoffs — the Astros will have to refresh after a postgame celebration.

Manager Dusty Baker’s group will be playing the game as American League West champions with a small “y” beside its name in the standings.

Monday night’s 4-0 win keyed by starter Luis Garcia, leadoff hitter Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman helped the Astros arrive at their magic number to win the division.

Following the milestone victory, Astros players — donned in “The West is Ours” t-shirts — held a celebration that featured spurting beverages and festive yelling in their clubhouse.

Like they have against both leagues all season, the Astros (97-51) have battered balls and left the yard frequently on their way to not only owning the West, but also laying claim to the entire junior circuit as well.

Yordan Alvarez bashed a trio of homers Friday in a 4-for-4 power show. His fourth hit was a scorching 109.3 mph single. He homered again Saturday then produced two hits and four RBIs on Sunday.

Last week over six games, the 6-foot-5 slugger hit .520 with five homers and 10 RBIs for a 1.836 OPS, earning him AL Player of the Week honors.

“My body feels great,” said Alvarez, who suffered a right-hand issue and slumped in August, “but it is no secret I have had to battle with hand issues.”

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“The balls he hit had a lot of mileage to them,” Baker said of Alvarez’s three-homer display.

Playing the second game of a stretch of 13 straight against winning clubs, the Rays (82-65) did very little — managing five hits against Garcia and relievers Hunter Brown and Hector Neris — and were blanked for the eighth time this season.

“I thought we hit the ball hard the early part of the night,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose team left 10 men on base and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. “But all their pitchers did a good job.”

Batting .311, Harold Ramirez had three of the Rays’ five hits, including a pair of doubles to the opposite field. Former Astro Jose Siri walked and stole his 14th base.

Drew Rasmussen (10-6) received his second straight loss after earning wins in four of his five previous starts.

Making his 23rd start to go with five relief appearances, Cristian Javier (9-9, 2.87 ERA) takes the ball Tuesday for Houston.

He won in Detroit Wednesday with six scoreless innings, allowing two hits to the Tigers while striking out eight in Houston’s 2-1 triumph.

In one career start against the Rays on May 2, 2021, Javier received a no-decision after five innings. He allowed three runs on four hits while walking two and striking out four.

Shane McClanahan (12-5, 2.13) returned to the mound Thursday and fired five shutout innings in an 11-0 win to conclude the Rays’ five-game series over four days against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

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He will get the nod against Houston.

In just one career appearance against the Astros, McClanahan pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief against them in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series on Oct. 16, 2020, a 7-4 Rays loss. He allowed five hits and three runs.


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