Bottom of lineup steps up as Astros stay hot

Tucker, Straw and Maldonado combine for six hits with seven RBIs

May 15th, 2021

HOUSTON -- These are not your 2019 Astros, which may be the club that future Houston teams are judged by in the regular season. They don’t have a one-two Cy Young combo at the top of the rotation like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and they probably aren’t going to set a Major League record in slugging percentage as they did a couple of years ago.

This year’s Astros aren’t fading from the ranks of the elite and figure to make a push for a fifth consecutive American League Championship Series berth. The Astros improved to a season-high five games over .500 (22-17) with a 10-4 win -- their fourth victory in a row -- over the Rangers on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

In a season where pitchers are dominating and offense is down, the Astros are still flexing some serious muscle with one of the most potent lineups in the game. Even without Jose Altuve, who was given a day off Friday, the Astros posted double-digit runs for the 15th time in 39 games.

“Our lineup just stepped up and put up some runs on the board like we try to do every night,” said right fielder .

The Astros drew a season-high eight walks and reached double-digit hits for the third consecutive game Friday, jumping to a 7-1 lead after three innings, rocking Rangers starter Wes Benjamin for three runs in 1 2/3 innings and reliever Brett de Geus for four runs in one-third of an inning.

added a two-run homer in the fifth as the bottom third of the Astros’ order -- Tucker, and Maldonado -- combined to go 6-for-10 with four runs and seven RBIs.

“They’re coming on strong. That’s something that we had hoped for is the bottom of the lineup would come through, especially on certain days when the middle or top isn’t doing their thing,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Michael [Brantley] and Breggy [Alex Bregman] are the only guys who didn’t get hits. It’s big when you can depend on everybody and not just a few guys.”

Here’s a snapshot at some of the damage the Astros are doing as a team and individually recently:

• The Astros have won seven of their last nine games, during which they’re slashing .299/.376/.525 with 18 doubles, 17 homers and 39 walks. They are averaging 6.7 runs and 1.9 home runs per game during that stretch.

• After 39 games, the Astros’ run differential is up to plus-51, which is the second best in the Major Leagues behind the White Sox (plus-64). Houston’s run differential in the past 22 games is plus-52, during which the club is 15-7.

• In his last 12 games, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez is slashing .412/.412/.765 with five home runs and no walks. He had three of the four hardest-hit balls in Friday’s game at 108.7, 106.4 and 106.1 mph.

• Tucker is 10-for-21 in the past six games with three homers and nine RBIs. He’s slashing .476/.560/1.048 in that span and has raised his average 37 points, on-base percentage 52 points and slugging percentage .110 in those six games.

• First baseman Yuli Gurriel drew a pair of walks Friday and now has more walks (20) than strikeouts (19) through 156 plate appearances. In his last seven games, Gurriel is 10-for-25 with three homers and 10 RBIs and is slashing .400/.467/.840 with a 1.307 OPS. He’s struck out twice in his last 30 plate appearances.

• Altuve, who wasn’t in the lineup Friday, is slashing .389/.436/.694 with three homers and eight RBIs in his last eight games. That came on the heels of a 2-for-28 slump that coincided with his return from a stay on the COVID injured list. He’ll be back in the lineup Saturday.