ARLINGTON -- The Astros have begun a long string of games during which they will play teams that either have losing records or are teetering just slightly above the .500 mark. In fact, their next series against a team with a healthy winning record won't arrive until after the All-Star break, when they open the second half in Anaheim on July 20.
The 36-game stretch against mediocre teams has started off well as the Astros rolled to a 7-3 win over the Rangers on Friday night at Globe Life Park -- taking a 2-0 advantage in the four-game set against their in-state rivals.
Shin-Soo Choo led off the game with a homer against Justin Verlander, but that lead -- the only one the Rangers would have all night -- evaporated when the Astros burst through with a four-run second off starter Doug Fister, highlighted by George Springer's two-run double.
In between, Verlander struck out five batters in a row, and ended with nine punchouts on the night. The outing, which also included three runs on five hits, led to Verlander's eighth win of the season. His main blemish was a two-run double by Nomar Mazara in the third.
"He dialed it up when he needed to," manager AJ Hinch said. "It was a battle for him. I think he was having to make a lot of stress pitches tonight. They put a lot of pressure on him, he got ambushed the first pitch of the game. They got a couple of late runs in the one inning on the base hit down the right-field line. All in all, he came up with big pitches in time to end his innings and to end his outing, as he always does."
Verlander pointed to two key elements that made this 110-pitch outing admittedly more challenging than some of his prior starts this season. Choo and Joey Gallo each bunted against the shift -- Choo in the fifth, Gallo in the sixth -- which extended the innings and created more havoc on the basepaths than Verlander, who has a 1.45 ERA, is accustomed to.
"That put me in tough spot, where I had to work a little harder than I would have liked, as opposed to getting a base hit the old fashioned way," Verlander said. "It was just a grind physically. Bunting's part of the game. They made me work harder, maybe cost me an inning, got me out of the game. You tip your cap."
Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve each homered. Bregman's was a solo shot off Fister -- who exited the game after one pitch in the sixth with a knee injury -- to straightaway center, traveling a projected 420 feet according to Statcast™, and Altuve's was a two-run homer off Matt Bush that traveled 394 feet.
"When you have a starting staff that keeps you in every single game, and gives you a chance to win every time out, us as an offense, you need to be able to pile on insurance just to give them a little bit of comfort and a little bit of a lead," Bregman said. "These guys know how to do it -- they know how to pound the zone and get outs."
The Astros recently completed their most challenging part of the schedule to date, posting a 6-7 record against the Indians, Yankees, Red Sox and Mariners. Between now and the All-Star break, they'll play mostly sub-.500 teams -- the Rangers, Royals, Rays, Blue Jays, White Sox and Tigers.
Houston has won 17 of 24 games this season vs. sub-.500 teams.
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Altuve's two-run homer provided insurance and improved his road batting average to a Major League-best .415 (56-for-135). He has hits in each of his past eight road games, during which he's hitting at a .571 clip -- 20 hits in 35 at-bats. More >
Bregman has hit safely in all seven games in June, logging nine hits in 31 at-bats (.290) with three homers and seven RBIs. He's also leading the team with 39 walks.
Video: [email protected]: Bregman clubs solo homer off Fister in 5th
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According to Statcast™, Tony Kemp's sliding catch of Guzman's fly ball in foul territory in the third inning was a 3-star catch -- he had a 64 percent catch probability. He needed to cover 119 feet and went 121 on the play. More >
"It was a little bit of a run," Kemp said. "I saw I had a chance. While running after the ball, I tried to slow myself down while I slid. Actually, the ball ended up being to my left a little bit, so I just reached back, caught the ball … I was lucky it went in my glove."
Astros right-hander Charlie Morton (7-1, 2.84 ERA) will take the mound on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. CT for the third of this four-game series with the Rangers at Globe Life Park. Morton is coming off his first loss of the season after allowing six runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Red Sox. Saturday's game will be nationally televised on FOX. Lefty Mike Minor (4-4, 5.76) will start for the Rangers.