'We're built to win championships': Red-hot Astros sweep Red Sox

August 31st, 2023

BOSTON -- If you’re starting to get the feeling that the Astros have found another gear as the season hits the final month, just ask veteran catcher . He senses it, too. So much so that he is starting to get some vibes from the 2019 club, which is perhaps considered the franchise's best team despite not winning the World Series.

In addition to being led by the Nos. 1-2 finishers in the American League Cy Young race, the 2019 Astros had an incredibly deep lineup that set the Major League record for slugging percentage in a season. That’s how well Houston has swung the bats in recent days, especially during a winning streak that reached five games with Wednesday afternoon's 7-4 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Maldonado said.

The Astros, who have a franchise-record 78 hits during the five-game streak, remain tied atop the AL West standings entering the final month of the season. Houston swept the Red Sox at Fenway Park for the first time in franchise history, and the Astros are poised for a strong September push, considering they’re as healthy as they’ve been all year.

After scoring 45 runs in their previous four games, the Astros kept the hot bats going by rocking Boston starter Kutter Crawford for three runs apiece in the second and third innings for a 6-0 lead. Michael Brantley, who came off the injured list on Tuesday for his first action this season, had a two-run double to cap the three-run third.

“We’ve got [Jose] Altuve and Yordan [Alvarez] healthy, and these last couple of games with the addition of Michael … he’s been unbelievable for us,” said Maldonado, who went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. “I think we have to keep continuing to play one game at a time, and passing the baton is something we’ve been doing these last five games.”

The Astros will hit September with an easier schedule, based on opponents' winning percentage, than fellow AL West challengers Texas and Seattle. Houston will begin a three-game series at home against the Yankees on Friday in advance of a crucial series in Arlington against the Rangers starting on Monday.

Beyond that, Houston still has six games remaining against the Royals, and three each vs. the A’s and Padres. The Astros, who have won five of the past six AL West titles, will play 15 of their next 21 games at home.

“We’ve been there and done that for a long time -- the past seven years,” said closer Ryan Pressly, who secured his 29th save. “I think this is kind of when we turn it on. This team, we’re built to win championships and to go deep in the playoffs. We know what it takes to get there and we’ve just got to string good innings and good at-bats together, and just keep doing what we’re doing right now and things will take off.”

Astros lefty Framber Valdez, who threw seven no-hit innings Friday in Detroit, retired the first 10 batters he faced and allowed just one hit while facing the minimum 15 batters through five scoreless innings. The Red Sox, however, scored four runs in the sixth, two of which were unearned due to a throwing error by shortstop Jeremy Peña, to cut the lead to 7-4.

Houston’s bullpen held Boston to two hits in the final three innings, with Hector Neris getting four big outs to get the ball to Pressly, who admitted he was “sucking wind” because he’d been ill. Regardless, he wanted the ball.

“That game seemed like a lot closer than it was,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We scored and their bullpen shut us down. We could have had 10, 12 runs with the bases loaded early [in the fourth]. I was hoping those [stranded] runs wouldn't come back to haunt us. Neris came in and did a great job.”

Brantley’s return -- he hadn’t played since June 26, 2022, prior to Tuesday due to shoulder surgery -- has lengthened the Astros’ lineup and boosted their spirits. Houston is accustomed to having the division sewn up by now, but it believes it's built for a fight to the finish with the Rangers and Mariners.

“I just think we have a great group of guys who work really hard, day in and day out,” Brantley said. “We prepare really well and we’ve played really well as a team, and we need to continue to do that down the stretch.”