HOUSTON -- The dog days of August aren’t doing anything to slow down the Astros, who are racing towards 100 wins for the fourth time in their past five full seasons and their fifth American League West crown in six years.
After getting swept in three games by last-place Oakland less than three weeks ago, the Astros returned the favor on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, beating the A’s, 6-3, for their fourth consecutive win and their eighth victory in their last 11 games.
“It feels good to have a winning streak here and get to 75 [wins],” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
The Astros (75-41) improved to a season-high 34 games over .500 and lead the AL West by 13 games over the Mariners. They have to go 25-21 in their final 46 games to join the 1998 and 2017-19 clubs as the franchise’s only 100-win seasons.
“You go and you get slapped around at their place a little bit, and it kind of humbles you and brings you back to reality,” Astros closer Ryan Pressly said. “Sometimes, you need that. You can't take anything away. You have to give them credit. They’re good players. They get paid to hit and pitch, just like everybody else. Those guys are good and are having a bad year, but we wanted to come back and sweep them like they did to us.”
Astros starter Cristian Javier (7-8) continued Houston’s run of strong starting pitching by allowing just one hit and three walks in six scoreless innings. Houston starters haven’t been squared up in three of their last four outings, with the rotation posting a 1.44 ERA during the four-game winning streak. That included Saturday’s return to the mound for Lance McCullers Jr., who threw six scoreless frames in his first start of 2022.
“Great pitcher, great stuff, great command,” said catcher Christian Vázquez, who went 3-for-4, about Javier. “I think his fastball and slider [are] one of the best ones.”
Perhaps the biggest positive development for the Astros during their 5-1 homestand, other than McCullers’ return, was how their offense has broken out. Houston was held to one run in two games last week in Cleveland, but averaged 6.5 runs in taking two of three games from the Rangers (the only loss was in extra innings) and sweeping the A’s.
Alex Bregman’s second-half surge has been a big reason why the offense has clicked. He went 2-for-4 on Sunday with a first-inning homer for the second game in a row. He’s batting .311 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs since June 17 and has an .814 OPS, which is higher than All-Star outfielder Kyle Tucker (.801).
“The guys did a really good job of preparing and getting ready to go this series and competed [against] every single pitch,” Bregman said. “We have to do that if we expect to win. I think we did a really good job of locking in and focusing and playing hard.”
A homestand against the two worst teams in the AL West now gives way to a road trip against two teams Houston met in the playoffs last year. Beginning Monday, the Astros will play four games against the White Sox, who they beat in four games in last year’s ALDS, before a trip to Atlanta in a rematch of last year’s World Series.
“It’s going to be a fun couple of series, especially when we go back to Atlanta,” Pressly said. “We want to go back there and play well. Same thing with Chicago. Those are both really good teams that can hurt you if you’re not paying attention. We have to button down and go out there and play competitive baseball.”
With a comfortable division lead, the Astros are still trying to fight off the Yankees for the best record in the AL, which would mean home-field advantage for a possible ALCS showdown with the Bronx Bombers. The Astros have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Yankees and own the tiebreaker.
“We’ve got to keep the momentum going,” Bregman said.