HOUSTON — When the Houston Astros suffered through a grueling offensive slump that bridged the final two games of July with the opening week of August, they hoped that the additions of Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel would eventually lengthen their lineup and correct their problems.
The Astros scored a total of 18 runs while losing eight of 10 games before finding their footing in Minnesota on Aug. 9. On Saturday night, in their 6-2 win over the Rays, the Astros (68-61) showcased the balanced offense they sorely craved.
In attacking Rays left-hander Blake Snell, the Astros banged out nine with him on the mound and closed the game with five starters recording multi-hit games. By spreading hits up and down their lineup, the Astros overwhelmed Snell and set the stage for a series sweep on Sunday.
"It’s a weird discipline to ask out of your hitters to be ready to hit on every pitch but don’t swing at everything," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I thought we did a really good job tonight of making (Snell) get his breaking ball over. We didn’t chase any breaking balls in the dirt or not very many of them. The changeup was really very effective early on for him but we hit his fastball, and then the second time through we hit his changeup. I like how our guys stayed very focused in the strike zone."
Right-hander Doug Fister (12-8, 3.59 ERA) will take the hill for Houston coming off his best start of the season. On Monday against the Pirates, Fister worked seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits and one walk with six strikeouts in a 3-1 win. He did not face the Rays when the teams squared off in Tampa Bay in mid-June, but Fister is 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA over seven career appearances (six starts) against them.
Right-hander Chris Archer (7-17, 4.11 ERA) will get the start for the Rays (54-74), seeking to continue his exceptional pitching against the Astros.
Archer is 3-2 with a 1.31 ERA in six career starts against the Astros. Two of his three career shutouts have come against Houston, including a one-hitter on Aug. 20, 2015 at Minute Maid Park and a five-hit shutout at Tropicana Field on July 14, 2013.
The road shutout against the Astros came in his previous appearance in Houston, a 1-0 win over right-hander Collin McHugh in which Archer threw just 98 pitches. In that start, Archer became the first American League pitcher to throw a one-hit shutout with 10-plus strikeouts and less than 100 pitches since Yankees right-hander David Cone twirled a perfect game against the Montreal Expos on July 18, 1999.
The Rays will need Archer to pitch effectively and efficiently. They lost Snell to an injury one batter into the fourth inning on Saturday, forcing manager Kevin Cash to dip into his bullpen earlier than he expected.
"It’s unfortunate because Kevin Jepsen really shouldn’t have been pitching," Cash said. "Now, tonight was injury-related, and (Danny) Farquhar comes in and gives us two innings.
"The bullpen is getting taxed a little bit. We need to straighten that out."