OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland Athletics have a chance to overtake the Houston Astros in the American League West when the division's top two teams go head-to-head in a three-game series that begins Friday night.
After finishing 26 games behind the Astros last season, the A's found themselves in fourth place, 11 1/2 back, on June 24 before running off 32 wins in 42 games to get within one at the start of play Wednesday.
Houston's 12-1 home win Wednesday over Colorado, coupled with Oakland's 2-0, 12-inning home loss to Seattle, allowed the Astros to increase the margin to two games before heading west for the showdown.
The A's begin the series in the second AL wild-card position, 2 1/2 games up on the Mariners (70-52).
Oakland's 32-11 run in the past two months included winning three of four at Houston in July. Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) pitched in that series, getting a no-decision in a 6-4 loss in which he allowed three runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The 34-year-old has wins at 22 different major-league ballparks in his career but never in Oakland, where he has pitched just once, taking the loss in an 11-1 rout last September.
He has started three times against the A's in his career, going 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA.
The Astros are expected to get George Springer back in the lineup for the series opener. He suffered a sprained left thumb on Aug. 5 and hasn't played since, a stretch during which the Astros have gone just 3-5.
"He's almost certain to return," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before the club left Houston for a nine-game Western swing that includes three games at Seattle before three in Los Angeles against the Angels.
Hinch also expects star second baseman Jose Altuve back from a sore right knee at some point during the trip, but not likely at the start of it. The reigning AL Most Valuable Player hasn't played since July 25.
"Everyone wants to know a timeline," Hinch reported. "I do, too."
When healthier, the Astros beat the A's eight of nine in April, May and June.
After this series, they will meet just one more time -- Aug. 27-29 in Houston -- before going separate ways in September.
Jackson (4-2, 2.48) hasn't seen the Astros this season, and hasn't beaten them since 2005.
He was on the losing end of a 6-1 decision last August when Mike Fiers, who has joined forced with Jackson in Oakland, pitched Houston to a 6-1 home win over Washington.
The 34-year-old has gone 2-2 with a 4.17 ERA in eight career games, including seven starts, against the Astros.
Jackson will take the mound as one of baseball's hottest pitchers, having not allowed an earned run in any of his last three starts, limiting Toronto, Detroit and the Los Angeles Angels to 11 hits and one run (unearned) in 19 1/3 innings.
Batterymate Jonathan Lucroy is happy to get a head-to-head crack at taking down the defending World Series champs.
"Winning the division is a huge thing for us," he said. "I'm looking forward to this series. This is where champions are made."