Astros drop series, lose ground in Wild Card race

Astros drop series, lose ground in Wild Card race

HOUSTON -- The Cubs sucked the prime-time drama out of Sunday night in a hurry, jumping on Astros starter Mike Fiers for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings and cruising to a 9-5 victory at Minute Maid Park for their 32nd win in their past 43 games.

Jake Arrieta (17-6) held the Astros to three runs and four hits in 5 1/3 innings, and the Cubs roared to a 9-1 lead after four innings. They scored four times in the third to take a 7-1 lead behind a solo homer by Jorge Soler and two-run single by Albert Almora Jr. , and Addison Russell cracked a long two-run homer to left in the fourth off Jandel Gustave to push the lead to 9-0.

"The offense really played up tonight," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Really good at-bats against Fiers, who has really been good against this particular group. Every team I've ever had, he pitches well, so I was happy that we did that."

Almora Jr.'s two-run single

The Astros scored twice in the sixth to chase Arrieta and got back-to-back homers from Yulieski Gurriel and Evan Gattis to start the ninth to cut the lead to 9-5.

The Cubs, whose magic number is now five, pushed their National League Central lead to 16 games over the Cardinals, while the Astros' fourth loss in five games dropped them 3 1/2 games behind the Orioles and Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card race.

"That's a difficult game when we can't get into it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Arrieta came in really hot and dominated at least the first three innings until [Jose] Altuve hit the homer. They came out swinging the bats well, and the leadoff walk starts the night and they really got to [Fiers] in the second and third. Disappointing to fall that far behind. Very proud of our guys for fighting back and making it semi-interesting."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Fast start: After notching only two hits and one run in Saturday's loss, it didn't take long for the Cubs' offense to get back on track Sunday. Kris Bryant put Chicago on the board early with a first-inning RBI double, and the Cubs never looked back, rattling off nine runs and 10 hits in the first four innings to storm out to a 9-0 lead. More >

"That was very big," Maddon said. "Our goal is to score first every game. That's our goal, to score first and then win the inning. If you can just have that mentality of getting on the board first and then process-wise just win the inning, that's a pretty good formula."

Bryant's RBI double

Left 'em loaded: The Astros chased Arrieta from the game in the sixth inning by scoring a pair of runs on a double by Alex Bregman and a wild pitch that scored Bregman. But with the bases loaded and one out, reliever Justin Grimm got Gattis and Colby Rasmus to fly out to center field to keep the Astros at bay. More >

Grimm escapes a jam

Arrieta solid in Texas return: Though the sixth inning got away from him, Arrieta -- who grew up in Plano, Texas, and currently resides in Austin -- pitched well in his return to the Lone Star State. The former TCU standout surrendered only two hits and one run in his first five innings, while striking out three in his first career start against Houston. The Cubs have now won six of Arrieta's last seven starts.

"It's nice to be here to see some friends and family I don't get to spend a lot of time with throughout the year, so that was nice, but once the game starts, it's just a stadium like anywhere else," Arrieta said. "It's all business after that point."

Arrieta strikes out Rasmus

Fiers falters: The Astros' starting pitching struggles continued as Fiers couldn't escape the third inning. In 10 games in September (six losses), the Astros' starting pitchers have posted an 8.64 ERA. Only one time in those 10 games has a starting pitcher lasted past the fifth inning. Fiers has allowed 10 earned runs and 22 hits in 12 ⅓ innings in his last three starts.

"I thought we played pretty well," Fiers said. "I just didn't hold my end up of the bargain and we ended up losing because of it. Big games like this, I need to lock it in and play a lot better than I did. I put us in a hole pretty quick and it was tough to get out of, especially against a pitcher like Jake."

QUOTABLE
"He's fine, and he didn't re-aggravate anything and I wasn't going to let him re re-aggravate anything." Hinch on taking out shortstop Carlos Correa, who had missed the previous four games with shoulder inflammation, in the fourth inning when it was 9-1

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Bregman extended his on-base streak to 25 games, which ties Chris Johnson (2010) as the third-longest streak by an Astros rookie.

Bregman's RBI double

With his two-run homer in the fourth, Russell tied Alex Gonzalez (2003) for the most home runs by a Cubs shortstop in a single season since Ernie Banks hit 29 in 1961. The Cubs also improved to 11-0 in games when Soler hits a home run.

Soler's solo homer

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: The Cubs continue their road trip with the first of three Monday night against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in a 7:15 p.m. CT start. The Cubs have won four of six games at Busch Stadium this season, but haven't won a season series against St. Louis since 2011.

Astros: Right-hander Doug Fister (12-11, 4.14 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros in Monday's 7:10 p.m. CT series opener against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park. The Rangers are 13-3 against the Astros this year.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston. He covered the Cubs on Sunday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.