HOUSTON — The Houston Astros have seemingly conquered all challenges en route to the best record in the majors with the midpoint of the season approaching.
The Astros (52-25) have overcome injuries to their rotation and nagging ailments to frontline starters yet have maintained an impressive winning clip through the maladies and obstacles.
What remains for Houston to shore up at the halfway pole is its pedestrian performance at Minute Maid Park in recent weeks. The Astros get another opportunity Tuesday in the opener of a three-game series with the Oakland Athletics.
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The Astros have played great on the road this season, producing a league-leading 29-9 record away from Minute Maid Park, including a 20-4 run over their last three road trips.
Things haven’t gone so swimmingly at home for the Astros, who are 23-16 at Minute Maid Park for a .589 winning percentage that ranks just seventh in the majors. Over their past two homestands, the Astros finished just 9-10 and won only two of six series during that stretch.
Houston has produced an .802 on-base-plus-slugging percentage at home compared to .850 on the road, which explains in part why the Astros have scored 78 fewer runs at Minute Maid Park while playing one more game there.
If Houston can receive another performance from its bullpen as it did on Sunday in Seattle — seven scoreless innings in an 8-2 win — perhaps success at home will follow.
“To a man, they came in and threw very well,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously, it’s big to get a series win against these guys on the road the way they’ve been playing, but we needed all of our guys to step up. The versatility of our ‘pen has been talked about over and over again. It was in full effect on the field. All of those guys did a nice job of stretching themselves to their limitations.”
Right-hander Mike Fiers (5-2, 3.81 ERA) will start Tuesday for the Astros.
Fiers is 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA over his past five starts, a stretch that began after he was demoted to the bullpen only to immediately reclaim his spot in the rotation due to injury. Fiers is 1-2 with a 3.89 ERA over seven career starts against the Athletics.
Left-hander Sean Manaea (6-4, 4.05 ERA) will start for Oakland. He is 0-2 with a 2.23 ERA in six career starts against Houston, against whom he made his big-league debut on April 29, 2016. Manaea took the loss against the Astros on Wednesday, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks with eight strikeouts over six innings in a 5-1 setback.
Unlike Houston, the Athletics have struggled on the road, going 12-25 away from the Oakland Coliseum. However, the Athletics completed their first road sweep of the season on Sunday in Chicago against the White Sox, an effort that in theory should help build some momentum as they ready for the Astros.
The Athletics are hitting .236 on the road, but they batted .283 and scored 18 runs in their sweep of the White Sox.
“It’s no secret we struggle on the road,” Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray said Sunday. “We’re aware of it. We really put together three solid games here. We got big hits when we needed to, our starting pitching was really good, and our bullpen was really good. Hopefully that’s something we can continue to do.”