MINNEAPOLIS -- The Astros are coming out of their longest road trip of the year dripping with confidence and swagger, having taken two of three games in each of their series against the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Twins behind a relentless offense and a deep starting rotation that’s soon to be at full strength.
It was all on full display Sunday afternoon at sun-splashed Target Field, where the Astros bashed out a season-high 20 hits -- including three homers and seven doubles -- and got seven strong innings from starter Framber Valdez to crush the Twins, 14-3, for their 10th win in their past 14 games.
“We’ve been playing great,” Houston shortstop Carlos Correa said. “We’re so happy with this road trip. It played out the way we wanted to. We’re hitting, we’re throwing the ball well, we’re playing great defense. You cannot ask anything else out of this team. We’re playing great baseball, and hopefully, we can do that going into the homestand and stay consistent.”
Sunday was the exclamation point on the Astros' 6-3 trip. They averaged 7.2 runs per game and cranked 19 homers, including two-run blasts from Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez and a solo blast from Chas McCormick in the finale in Minnesota. Michael Brantley added four hits, including three doubles, and four RBIs.
“When you leave on a 10-day road trip, you don’t know what to expect,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You hope you do well and come home at least .500. We won every series, which was really big. You look back and there was one other game you really had a chance to win [Thursday's 12-8 loss in Boston]. You have to be happy with it and go home now for a much-needed day off and start the grind on that 20 in a row.”
There’s so much bluster in the Astros’ clubhouse these days that Correa is starting to get the same kind of feelings he had in 2017, which ended with a World Series championship, and '19, which ended with a Game 7 loss in the Fall Classic.
“I believe in this team,” said Correa, who went 3-for-5 and is hitting .339 in his past 14 road games. “I have a good feeling about this team. Everybody’s on the same page. The vibe in the clubhouse reminds me of ’17 and ’19. Man, I really love this team.”
Valdez (3-0), who made his fourth start of the season after missing the first two months with a fractured left ring finger, completed seven innings for the third start in a row, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out two. The Astros improved to 18-0 when they have a starter pitch at least seven innings.
Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. is set to come off the injured list and start Tuesday, the first of 20 consecutive games without a day off. With the staff at full strength, the Astros will go with a six-man rotation later this week. Houston starting pitchers have posted a 2.99 ERA with 10 quality starts over the past 17 games.
“If we can have six starters, that’s even better,” Valdez said. “To be able to have that many guys who can attack and stay ahead in the count and control the zone ... that’s a strength for us.”
The Astros, who remain on the heels of the first-place A’s in the American League West, will see their schedule ease up during the 20-game stretch, which starts with two games at home against the Rangers. They also have two series against the Orioles (one home and one away) and four games against the Tigers in Detroit.
Granted, the Rangers and Tigers both own three-game sweeps over the Astros earlier this year. But nothing seems to be able to slow down Houston right now.
“The biggest challenge is going to be bullpen preservation,” Baker said. “You don’t want to get upside down in a couple of games and have to go through your bullpen, and there might be a couple of games you have to sacrifice. You don’t want to, but you might have to in order to make it through that stretch. Also, when to give guys days off and how to use your bench.”