Preview: Twins at Astros

HOUSTON — On the heels of playing five consecutive series against American League West rivals, the Astros on Monday opened a three-game set against a club finishing out the string.

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The Minnesota Twins, unexpected postseason participants a season ago, entered the series 10 games under .500 and planning to use the final month of the season to evaluate. Their non-contender status represents a change of pace for the Astros (85-53), who claimed a 4-1 win and are striving to maintain a laser-sharp focus with the division title still hanging in the balance.

When the clubs met April 9-11, the Twins were an optimistic lot and claimed the final two games of that series at Target Field. Plenty has changed since, including the Twins’ motivations.

“We haven’t seen them in a long time and then you start to factor in the September call-ups and some of the trades and they look like a completely different team,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of the Twins. “They’re in a different place than they were back then. They’re going to play a matchup-friendly game. They’re going to want to use as many guys as they can. They’re still very talented; you have to play well to beat them.

“In situations like this where you’re playing against a team that’s transitioning into finishing the rest of the season, looking at some prospects, looking at different guys at finishing their season that know they’re not going to be in the playoffs, it’s important to try to play from ahead. You have to throw the first punch and be able to get out in front of them and play from ahead. That way you can control the game. They’re all trying to impress, they’re all trying to play well to finish their season. When they get ahead it puts a lot of pressure on you to have to always come from behind.”

Right-hander Justin Verlander (13-9, 2.78 ERA) will make his 30th start of the season on Tuesday for the Astros against the Twins. It will mark the 12th time that Verlander has started at least 30 games in a season.

He twirled seven shutout innings against the Twins on April 9, allowing four hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in a 2-0 victory at Target Field. Verlander is 18-9 with a 3.06 ERA over 35 career starts against the Twins, his fourth-most wins against any team.

Right-hander Trevor May (3-0, 1.88 ERA) will make his first start of the season for the Twins on Tuesday. May has made 13 relief appearances for Minnesota (63-74) this season and 76 consecutive appearances out of the bullpen, having last started for the Twins on Aug. 14, 2015.

He worked 1 1/3 innings on Aug. 31 at Texas, recording four strikeouts over the scoreless outing. This will mark the second time in three games that the Twins employ the opener strategy. Minnesota did so in its series finale at the Rangers on Sunday, falling 18-4 in Arlington.

May is 0-1 with an 11.57 ERA over five career appearances against the Astros.