Astros stay hot, sweep ahead of 'huge week'

July 25th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The challenges the Astros will face on their upcoming road trip will be some of their most difficult of the season, beginning with a three-game series at Seattle against the pesky Mariners on Monday. From there, it’s a series in San Francisco against the team with the best record in baseball, the Giants, and two games in Los Angeles. More on the Dodgers later. 

The Astros hit the road tied for the best record in the American League at 61-39, having swept aside the Rangers in three games, capped by a 3-1 win in Sunday’s series finale at Minute Maid Park. Houston has won three in a row and five of its last six games as it tries to shake the A’s in the AL West race.

“We have to rise to the occasion,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “This is something you look at the schedule and say, ‘OK, this is going to be a tough stretch here with some very good teams.’ Seattle is playing outstanding. They’re as tough in their stadium as we are in ours. ... It’s a big week, huge week.” 

Abraham Toro slugged a two-run homer in the fifth inning Sunday, moments after the Rangers took their first lead in 99 innings, and Cristian Javier pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh as the Astros (61-39) improved to 9-0 against their Lone Star State rivals at Minute Maid Park this season.  

“Just coming out of that last road trip we had earlier, coming in here and having a good homestand and setting the tone, that’s huge,” Toro said. “It gives you more confidence on the road to do it all again.” 

The Mariners, who began the day 2 1/2 games behind the A’s, are Houston’s immediate threat. The teams split six games in April, but both are playing much better than they were in the season’s first month. The Astros have cooled the torrid offensive pace they were on earlier in the summer but are doing enough to rack up the wins. 

Since averaging 8.5 runs per game during an 11-game winning streak that was snapped June 26, the Astros are slashing .211/.297/.349 as a team and are averaging 3.9 runs per game in 15 games since. Shortstop Carlos Correa is mired in a 2-for-44 funk, and third baseman Alex Bregman has been out since June 16 with a strained quad, though he’s set to begin a Minor League rehab outing Monday with Triple-A Sugar Land. 

“We’re not really swinging the bats, but we’re winning and that’s all that counts,” Baker said. “You have to win a number of different ways. It’s really big that we won this series here.”

Houston will play the Giants for three games beginning Friday in San Francisco, with Baker returning to the city where he managed from 1993-02. The Trade Deadline will fall before the Astros take the field at Oracle Park on Friday night, so the roster -- and Houston’s championship hopes -- could be in for an upgrade in the coming days. 

The road trip ends with the main course -- the Astros’ first trip to Dodger Stadium with fans in the stands since news of the sign-stealing scandal broke in 2019. The Dodgers, of course, have been vocal in their displeasure of the Astros’ methods in 2017, when Houston beat the Los Angeles to win the World Series. The Astros have been dealing with boo birds all season, but Dodger Stadium figures to be on a different level. 

“Seattle is playing great, and this is as close as they’ve been [to the playoffs] this deep in the season [in years],” Baker said. “San Francisco has the best record in baseball. ... The Dodgers, they don’t like us and they’ve got a good ballclub. Plus, we lost one of our big bats. We don’t have the [designated hitter in San Francisco and Los Angeles]. Like I said, the odds are against us, but this club usually rises to the occasion.”