LEADING OFF: Verlander nears 20, Cubs skid, ex-cellent Rays

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LEADING OFF: Verlander nears 20, Cubs skid, ex-cellent Rays

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) throws against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

A look at what's happening around the majors today:

THE BIG 2-0

Justin Verlander tries to become a 20-game winner for the second time in his career as the Astros aim to clinch the AL West title at home by beating the Angels. He reached the mark in 2011, going 24-5 for Detroit and winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award.

Verlander (19-6, 2.50 ERA) leads the majors in victories. A couple other big, round numbers are on his radar as the 36-year-old righty makes his second-to-last start of the regular season - he needs 11 strikeouts to reach 3,000 for his career, and he's 17 shy of his first 300-strikeout year.

Verlander has dominated since the All-Star break, going 9-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 13 starts while striking out 130 and walking just 13.

WINDY CITY WIND DOWN

The Cubs have lost five in a row, pushing themselves out of playoff position. They've dropped four straight games by one run for the first time since 1972, according to STATS - their latest defeat came Saturday, when closer Craig Kimbrel gave up home runs to Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong on his first two pitches in the ninth inning of a 9-8 loss to St. Louis.

Yu Darvish (6-7, 4.02 ERA) hopes to stop the skid in the Cubs' final regular-season game at Wrigley Field. Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.29 ERA) goes for the NL Central-leading Cardinals.

EXTRA SPECIAL

The Tampa Bay Rays have won three in a row - all in 11 innings - to take over the second AL wild-card spot. They beat Boston 5-4 Saturday night on Nate Lowe's two-run homer in extras.

Tampa Bay leads Cleveland by one game in the wild-card race. Lefty Ryan Yarbrough starts for the Rays at Tropicana Field in the series finale against Nathan Eovaldi.

SEVVING UP

Yankees ace Luis Severino starts against Toronto in his second major league appearance of the season. Out for most of the year with a lat injury, he pitched four scoreless innings against the Angels last Tuesday.

It will be New York's final regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. Next up, the AL East champions are likely to be home Oct. 4 to begin the Division Series.

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