HOUSTON — For the first time in 35 years, the Astros swept a seven-game homestand — and for the first time at Minute Maid Park — getting tremendous pitching from their starting rotation and bullpen and doing just enough offensively to put them on the heels of the first-place Angels in the American League West.
The Astros polished off a four-game sweep of the Tigers on Sunday afternoon, with three pitchers combining to throw a one-hit shutout in the 5-0 win. Aledmys Díaz cranked a third-inning grand slam to help second-place Houston to its first 7-0 homestand since sweeping the Braves and Cardinals from Aug. 14-20, 1987, at the Astrodome.
Astros starter Jake Odorizzi delivered his third consecutive solid start by throwing five innings and allowing just one hit. Cristian Javier piggybacked him and retired nine of 10 batters he faced with five strikeouts, and Héctor Neris capped the shutout with a 1-2-3 ninth inning that included a home run-saving catch at the right-field wall by Kyle Tucker.
“The pitchers are still ahead of the hitters,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Even though they’re throwing good, they’re having a little trouble on offense over there scoring some runs. That’s all around the league and all around baseball. We’ll take it. We didn’t get a lot of hits, but we got the big hit when it counted by Díaz. It was a major blow for us.”
Here’s a closer look at what’s clicking for the 18-11 Astros:
Pitching, pitching and more pitching
In going 7-0 against the Mariners and Tigers, the Astros threw three shutouts and held the opposition to two runs in each of the four other games. Houston has allowed more than four runs in a game only once since April 25, going 11-2 in that stretch.
The Astros allowed 37 hits, eight runs (seven earned), 13 walks and struck out 54 batters in 63 innings in the seven-game winning streak, posting a 1.00 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and .271 opponents’ batting average. The starters posted a 1.05 ERA; the bullpen, 0.89.
“Pitching is the name of the game,” Baker said. “Guys are going deep into games. Our bullpen wasn’t stretched out too badly these last seven games. I mean, that was the last of 17 in a row. We urged our guys to finish strong, not think about the off-day [Monday]†
The only hit the Tigers managed was a two-out double by Jonathan Schoop in the second inning, and Odorizzi pitched around back-to-back one-out walks in the fourth. Odorizzi is 3-0 with a 0.51 ERA and 0.57 WHIP in his last three starts after allowing nine earned runs in nine innings in his first three starts.
“Today was a little more of a fight,” he said. “I got a little squirrely there in the middle, third and fourth inning. But I think that’s the difference now, I was able to right it much quicker and make pitches when I needed to get through those innings.”
Just enough from the offense
The Astros haven’t exactly been crushing the ball during their seven-game winning streak, outscoring the opposition, 28-8. Houston slashed .225/.326/.431 with 11 homers during the homestand, including Díaz’s grand slam and a solo homer by Alex Bregman in the fifth Sunday.
The Astros pulled out three consecutive 3-2 wins over the Tigers, including a walk-off win on Thursday, before enjoying a five-run cushion Sunday. Houston has scored more than four runs twice since April 29.
“I do know that guys are doing a good job of staying in the strike zone,” Bregman said. “I think guys are swinging at strikes and taking balls and over time, the cream rises to the top. I think our offense will be very good.”
Díaz said he was emotional rounding the bases on his third career grand slam, which came on Mother’s Day.
“I just texted my mom and she’s very happy,” he said. “I said I hit that one for her, and I’m proud of that.”
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve came off the injured list Monday and started all seven games, hitting .409/.519/.818 during the winning streak with three homers. Jeremy Peña, despite getting two days out of the lineup, hit .368 with two homers, and Yordan Alvarez homered twice.
The Astros will hit the road for a three-city road trip that begins Tuesday in Minneapolis against the Twins and Carlos Correa, who spent the last seven years as a core player in Houston. Justin Verlander (3-1, 1.93 ERA) will get the start, as the Astros chose to pitch Javier — who had started in his last three outings — in relief for three innings on Sunday and keep the rest of the rotation on five days of rest.