Neither the Chicago White Sox nor the Houston Astros are contenders this season, but one has baseball’s top home run hitter and the other features the big-league hits leader.
Pitchers in Chicago this weekend will be tasked with slowing down the White Sox’s Jose Abreu and the Astros’ Jose Altuve beginning with Friday night’s opener of this three-game series.
The rebuilding process is ongoing for fourth-place clubs whose seasons have been highlighted by stellar hitting by their All-Stars.
Abreu is a rookie with 29 homers despite missing a 14-game stretch beginning with a May 18 contest at Houston due to an ankle injury. He has batted .355 while hitting safely in 26 of his past 27 games, including 14 for 32 (.438) during an eight-game hit streak.
Altuve has 130 hits and ranks third in the majors with a .335 average and second with 41 stolen bases. He became the first player in history to record 130 hits and 40 steals before the All-Star break.
"It was a good first half for us," Altuve told MLB’s official website. "I think we played really good baseball. I just want to try to get on base and help my team win and we’re going to come back in the second half and try to do the best we can."
The second baseman is hitting .381 with 17 steals over his last 25 games.
He went 5 for 15 as the Astros (40-56) took two of three from the White Sox (45-51) from May 16-18.
Conor Gillaspie went 4 for 13 in that series and returns home after going 10 for 19 with three homers, five RBIs and eight runs scored on Chicago’s 3-4 trip before the break.
”We’ve had spurts where we play well, we’ve had spurts where we didn’t," manager Robin Ventura said. "You wish you were in a better spot but you come back and try to clean that stuff up.”
Altuve figures to be challenged since he’s 2 for 10 with four strikeouts against Jose Quintana (5-7, 3.24 ERA), who starts Friday for Chicago.
Quintana is 2-0 with a 1.51 ERA in his last five starts. The left-hander has one win at home in seven starts, but he’s second in the majors in fielding-independent pitching (FIP) at home at 1.86 behind the 1.71 mark of Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
FIP takes into account balls that do not involve fielding and uses homers allowed, walks and strikeouts.
The White Sox have won all three of his starts against the Astros, with Quintana going 1-0 with a 3.63 ERA.
Houston starter Scott Feldman (4-6, 4.33) has never faced Abreu. He’s 5-1 with a 2.97 ERA in 10 starts against Chicago, including 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in three last year for two teams.
The right-hander has limited Alexei Ramirez to five hits in 24 at-bats. Adam Dunn (2 for 17), Dayan Viciedo (2 for 16) and Alejandro De Aza (2 for 15) have also fared poorly against Feldman.
Ramirez doubled in Tuesday’s All-Star game after sitting out Sunday’s 3-2 loss in Cleveland due to a stiff back. Center fielder Adam Eaton has missed the last two games with a wrist injury.
The White Sox are a league-worst 6-12 against AL West teams.