HOUSTON -- In what was a sign of how his club longs for more even in the midst of dizzying success, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch was quick to point out how close his club came to completing a perfect seven-game road trip through New York and Miami.
Undermined by their usually reliable bullpen in the seventh inning of the third game of their four-game set with the Yankees, the Astros nevertheless won three of four in the Bronx before rolling to a three-game series sweep of the Marlins.
Their 6-1 roadie boosted the Astros (29-12) to the best record in baseball and continued a torrid stretch where they've won nine of 10 with just two of those contests at home.
And now, armed with a sizable lead in the American League West, the Astros return to Minute Maid Park for a 10-game homestand that could add to that cushion. Houston opens against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.
"We had a good trip and we've been playing well and that's good for us, but we've got to go home and play some tough teams there," Astros center fielder George Springer said. "We just have to keep doing how we're doing."
Right-hander Charlie Morton (5-2, 3.97 ERA) will get the start for the Astros. Morton, 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in one career start against the Indians, has been victorious in each of his last four starts, posting a 3.70 ERA with 35 strikeouts over 24 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters have produced a .662 OPS during that span.
If the Indians (20-19) possess kryptonite to counter Houston's dominance, it is right-hander Trevor Bauer (3-4, 6.92 ERA), their starter for the series opener.
Bauer has enjoyed unfettered success against Houston, going 6-0 with a 2.61 ERA over six career starts. His 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings against the Astros is his best against any opponent (minimum three starts), with Bauer recording eight strikeouts over six innings in a 7-6 home victory over Houston on April 26.
Bauer defeated the Astros twice last season, including seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts at Minute Maid Park to pace a 4-0 win on May 10.
In his previous start, an 8-3 win over the Minnesota Twins on May 14, Bauer allowed three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts over six innings. It marked just the second time in seven starts that he allowed three earned runs of fewer. The Indians might need similar effectiveness to rebound from their recent woes.
After climbing to a season-high four games over .500 on May 9, the Indians have dropped five of seven games and allowed at least six runs four times during that stretch. In losing two of three against the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland surrendered 10 home runs -- a three-game series club record for Tampa Bay. A strong pitching performance would be welcome and beneficial.
"They hit a lot of home runs and they strike out," Indians manager Terry Francona said of the Rays, a description that was uttered about the Astros as recently as two seasons ago. "In this series the homers outdid the strikeouts."