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Astros use early burst, pitching to deny Cubs

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Behind a big solo home run from rookie Alex Bregman and a dominant day from the pitching staff, the Astros did their part as they try to inch closer to an American League Wild Card spot with a 2-1 win over the Cubs at Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon.

With the victory, Houston is 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot, also trailing Detroit and New York by 1 1/2 games. The win marked the fifth straight time that the Astros won in a Collin McHugh start, which is a season-long streak for the righty.

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HOUSTON -- Behind a big solo home run from rookie Alex Bregman and a dominant day from the pitching staff, the Astros did their part as they try to inch closer to an American League Wild Card spot with a 2-1 win over the Cubs at Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon.

With the victory, Houston is 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot, also trailing Detroit and New York by 1 1/2 games. The win marked the fifth straight time that the Astros won in a Collin McHugh start, which is a season-long streak for the righty.

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"We know what's ahead of us. It's a race to as many wins as we can get," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't care if we're playing a last-place team right now or a first-place team. There's a sense of urgency that our guys feel they need to win. We're holding our own, and we know how to play important games."

Video: CHC@HOU: Hinch discusses Bregman and McHugh

While offense was in short supply for both teams, which combined for seven hits, Houston's offensive spurt in the third inning proved to be just enough. During that inning, Bregman hit his homer a Statcast-projected 384 feet from home plate toward the opposite field, before Marwin Gonzalez added to the lead with what became a critical one-out safety squeeze.

Video: CHC@HOU: Gonzalez plates Altuve with RBI bunt

The Cubs went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, including a missed chance in the ninth, and were unable to score two or more runs for the third consecutive game. They still own baseball's best record at 90-51, and their magic number to clinch the National League Central is seven.

Video: CHC@HOU: Giles fans Contreras to end game, earn save

"You don't think about the [team's record] when you're in the middle of a game," Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey said. "You're trying to win the game. [The standings] have nothing to do with it in the middle of a game."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
McHugh, bullpen battle, stifle:
McHugh lasted only five innings, but it was an effective outing, limiting the high-powered Cubs to a single fourth-inning run, which was Chicago's 700th run scored this season, and two hits.

Video: CHC@HOU: McHugh goes five strong to pick up the win

Four relievers held the Cubs hitless and scoreless, with Luke Gregerson striking out Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant to end the eighth with a runner on second and Ken Giles striking out Willson Contreras on a 99-mph heater to end the game with the potential tying run, pinch-runner Matt Szczur, stranded at third.

Video: CHC@HOU: Gregerson fans Bryant to hold the lead

"Any time you get your bullpen a lead, you think they can shut it down, and we've got some good ones back there," McHugh said. "I have confidence giving them the ball with a lead." More >

Lack of production: The Cubs were able to overcome a lack of offensive production in Friday's win due to Bryant's big homer and Jon Lester's outstanding start. They didn't have that same luck Saturday, notching only two hits and scoring their lone run on Contreras' sacrifice fly in the fourth.

"I believe that hitting is a little bit contagious," Cubs designated hitter Miguel Montero said. "When we get a couple guys going, I think the whole offense is going to get going. Nothing to worry about. Guys seem to be putting good at-bats together. They just have to find holes, get in good counts, work the pitching." More >

Video: CHC@HOU: Bregman doubles off Fowler to end the 3rd

Bregman hitting his mark: Bregman continued his hot hitting. With his homer, he has reached base safely in 24 straight games, tying the fourth-longest streak by a Houston rookie.

"I feel back to how I was hitting in the Minor Leagues," Bregman said. "Squaring it up and putting it on the barrel, and I just got to keep it going."

Video: CHC@HOU: Bregman discusses homer, Astros' win

Lackey solid: Lackey put together another quality start in his second outing since returning from the disabled list with a shoulder strain. The 37-year-old Texas native went six innings, surrendering only four hits and the two runs while striking out five. It was his sixth quality start in his last seven appearances.

Video: CHC@HOU: Lackey strikes out Marisnick to escape 2nd

"I've been pitching for 15 years. I've been feeling something for 10 years," Lackey said when asked if he still felt anything with his shoulder. "There's no such thing as not feeling anything."

Video: CHC@HOU: Lackey, Maddon frustrated with strike zone

 REPLAY REVIEW
Astros manager A.J. Hinch lost a challenge resulting in the final out of the seventh inning, when George Springer was called out at home plate with the Astros ahead, 2-1. Springer tried to score from first base on Bregman's second hit of the game, a single that got past Jason Heyward in right field. After taking a relay throw from shortstop Javier Baez, Contreras applied the tag on Springer's foot as he was sliding headfirst into home. The review took one minute and 41 seconds as the out call was confirmed.

Video: CHC@HOU: Cubs nab Springer at the plate

Springer reached a top speed of 19.43 mph as tracked by Statcast™. His first-to-home time was 10.74 seconds, which was not among the leaders for fastest overall, but was his third-fastest first-to-home scamper of the season (of 11 total plays) and his fifth-fastest tracked by Statcast™ (of 16 total plays since the beginning of 2015). Baez's throw was projected at 87.07 mph. More >

Video: CHC@HOU: Baez nabs Springer at dish with 87-mph throw

AILING
Jose Altuve, who went 1-for-3, including a bunt single that set him up to score the second run, was pinch-hit for by Tony Kemp in the eighth inning after Altuve, who was the designated hitter, became too ill to continue. Altuve hadn't felt well before and during the game, vomiting at times.

Video: CHC@HOU: Altuve reaches on a bunt single

"He was sick to his stomach the whole day," Hinch said. "Threw up minutes before the first pitch, threw up a few times during the game, and I could hear him the previous inning, so I called it off. He's already come into my office, so he'll be fine for tomorrow." More >

• The game was delayed for eight minutes before the top of the third inning as a fan received medical attention after suffering a seizure in the bottom of the second. The fan was carried off on a stretcher. More >

Video: CHC@HOU: Medical issue in stands forces delay

QUOTABLE
"We've had a good atmosphere here all year, but especially with a first-place team like the Cubs comes in, it's always that extra crowd noise and energy. It's a big weekend. The Bears are playing tomorrow against the Texans [at NRG Stadium], so maybe we can get a Houston sweep." -- McHugh

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs:
Chicago wraps up its three-game series with the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Sunday night at 7:05 CT, with reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta on the hill. Arrieta (16-6, 2.84 ERA) had his four-game winning streak snapped in his last outing but still pitched well, allowing only two earned runs over six innings in a 3-2 loss to the Giants.

Astros: Mike Fiers has the task of opposing Arrieta. Fiers has had success in his career against the Cubs, with a 3-1 record and 1.71 ERA.

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

Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston and covered the Astros on Saturday.

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston and covered the Cubs on Saturday.

Alex Bregman, John Lackey, Collin McHugh