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Bottom of lineup sparking Astros offense

Special to MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- The big bats in the heart of the Astros' order have done their part during the team's recent run of eight wins in nine games, but it has been the bottom of the lineup that has been key to enabling the team at times, including during Friday night's 6-3 win over the Rays.

Brian McCann, hitting seventh on Friday, went 3-for-4, pushing his season average to .311. Yulieski Gurriel, who is now batting a team-high .319 on the year, also went 3-for-4 in the series opener at Tropicana Field. Norichika Aoki (hitting .306) and Jake Marisnick (.294) have also found success in the bottom third of the lineup this season.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- The big bats in the heart of the Astros' order have done their part during the team's recent run of eight wins in nine games, but it has been the bottom of the lineup that has been key to enabling the team at times, including during Friday night's 6-3 win over the Rays.

Brian McCann, hitting seventh on Friday, went 3-for-4, pushing his season average to .311. Yulieski Gurriel, who is now batting a team-high .319 on the year, also went 3-for-4 in the series opener at Tropicana Field. Norichika Aoki (hitting .306) and Jake Marisnick (.294) have also found success in the bottom third of the lineup this season.

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Astros manager A.J. Hinch had high praise for Gurriel, who he said would be a middle-of-the-order presence on a lot of other teams.

"As young as he is in the big leagues, he's not inexperienced. He's got a ton of international experience, and his bat-to-ball skills are exceptional," Hinch said. "He's a tough out and a dangerous hitter. He'll take a base hit, ground ball up the middle or he has strength to his swing on the pull side, so when he gets hot like he's been, he'll hit some bullets and produce very well for us in the bottom the order."

Southpaw struggles

If the Astros have had any weakness in the early part of the season, it has been left-handed starting pitching. Houston is 3-4 this season when facing off against a southpaw compared to 9-1 against righties. On Saturday against the Rays, the Astros took on Rays left-hander Blake Snell.

"We've faced a lot of them," Hinch said. "I don't really see the early games as being too much of an indicator of how it's going to be. Two of them were [Mariners left-hander] James Paxton, which is a tough ask."

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Houston Astros