MINNEAPOLIS -- The runaway train that is the Astros rolled into Target Center and bowled over the Twins en route to sweeping a three-game series, including a pair of wins on Thursday afternoon to run their winning streak to a season-high 10 games. It’s the longest current streak in the Major Leagues.
The Astros had been getting terrific pitching for the past two weeks, but their offense began to break out on Thursday. Houston bashed out a season-high 15 hits and beat the Twins, 11-3, in the completion of a game that was postponed after three innings on Wednesday before getting a pair of homers from slugger Yordan Alvarez in a 5-0 win in the second game.
“That was outstanding. It’s hard to win an almost doubleheader -- a game and two-thirds -- especially on the road, in their house,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Our guys are dragging a little bit, but we got pretty good pitching and got some very timely hitting, especially from Yordan. We hope he’s getting hot like only he can. It feels good to start the road trip 3-0.”
By winning 14 of their last 16 games, the Astros have overtaken the Angels for the lead in the American League West. The pitching staff has posted a 1.82 ERA in the past 16 games, with 10 quality starts. That doesn’t include Luis Garcia, who threw five scoreless innings in Thursday’s Game 2.
Remarkably, the Astros have posted five shutouts during their 10-game streak, the first time they’ve blanked an opponent five times in any 10-game stretch since late in the 1986 season (six times). The staff ERA during the 10-game streak is 0.90, with nine earned runs allowed in 90 innings.
Not only are the Astros getting dominant pitching without the injured Lance McCullers Jr. -- their best starter last year -- they've been getting unlikely contributions. They called up reliever Seth Martinez from Triple-A Sugar Land as the 27th player for Thursday’s second game, and all he did was throw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out the side in the sixth.
“Usually, when you have a winning streak, you’re either hitting the ball a ton or pitching a ton, or both usually,” Baker said. “I can’t take anything away from our pitching. They’re pitching great. … Everybody knows we’ve got good pitching, and we’ve really been playing good baseball.”
Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña leads the Astros with a .448 average and 10 RBIs during the winning streak, while Jose Altuve is hitting .333 despite going 0-for-5 in Thursday’s second game. The Astros haven’t lost since Altuve came off the injured list on May 2. He and Alvarez both have four homers in the last 10 games.
As a result, Houston has outscored its opposition, 49-11, during the winning streak, which is its longest since an 11-game streak last June. Houston’s run differential was minus-4 prior to the streak; it’s now plus-34 for the season.
“We have a great ballclub, and we show up every single day to win, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Peña, who had three hits in Thursday’s second game before leaving in the fourth inning with left knee discomfort. “We’ve been putting good at-bats together, our pitchers have been dominating, and we’re gonna keep it rolling.”
The suffocating Astros pitchers have recorded shutouts in three of their past four games.
On Sunday against the Tigers in Houston, Jake Odorizzi (five innings), Cristian Javier (three innings) and Héctor Neris (one inning) combined on a one-hitter to finish a four-game sweep. Justin Verlander carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Tuesday’s series opener against the Twins, who had just two hits in the first 17 innings of the series.
“They’ve given us a chance to win every single ballgame,” Peña said. “They’ve dominated every single game, they’re keeping their hitters from not doing much damage, and we’re just gonna build off that.”
José Urquidy started Wednesday’s game and gave up one run in three innings before heavy rains forced the suspension. Four relievers finished off that game Thursday, allowing one earned run in six innings.
Garcia was terrific on Thursday, striking out a career-high-tying nine batters for the second start in a row. The runner-up for the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year, Garcia has a 1.50 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in his last three starts, striking out 23 in 18 innings.
“We’re doing a really good job, and we hope we can keep it up,” Garcia said.