Astros-Athletics Preview

KEVIN MASSOTH (STATS Writer)
The Associated Press

The Houston Astros have been waiting for things to fall in place behind leadoff hitter Jose Altuve. If Wednesday's rare victory was any indication, they might be in line for their first winning streak.

After finally finding some offensive balance, the Astros look to continue putting the pieces together Friday night when they visit the Oakland Athletics to open their AL West series.

Things look solid at the top of Houston's lineup with Altuve's slash line of .330/.422/.659. The three-time All-Star has six home runs, 11 doubles, 13 RBIs and nine stolen bases to go with 20 runs scored.

That's where it goes downhill for the Astros (7-15), who have lost seven of nine and have yet to record back-to-back victories - a clunker of a start after earning a surprise playoff wild card last season.

Outside of Altuve, Houston is hitting .226, and while he has 11 walks against 14 strikeouts, the remaining Astros hitters have 66 to 210. The club ranks dead last in MLB with 224 strikeouts.

However, while Altuve extended his on-base streak to 19 games with his third leadoff homer and a pair of doubles in Wednesday's 7-4 victory at Seattle, George Springer added two hits, Evan Gattis drove in three runs and Carlos Correa and Colby Rasmus tagged on hits and RBIs apiece.

All welcome signs for manager A.J. Hinch, whose team avoided a sweep while snapping a six-game road skid.

"We're not going to win with one hitter," Hinch said. "We're going to need contributions throughout and we saw that tonight. ... we need a team offense."

One negative was Carlos Gomez exiting after getting hit on the right hand by a pitch in the fourth inning. X-rays were negative, and Gomez, batting .197 with two RBIs, says he expects to return Friday.

Mike Fiers has actually benefited from run support more than any Houston starter. Fiers has a run-support average of 6.95, the sixth-best mark among qualifying AL starting pitchers.

However, Fiers (2-1, 5.73 ERA) has largely struggled to hold up his end. The right-hander allowed 12 runs and 22 hits, including six homers, in 16 2/3 innings through his first three starts before settling in by holding Boston to five hits and a pair of runs in 5 1/3 innings of Saturday's 8-3 win.

Fiers will try to help the Astros to their fourth win in the last five games of this series and second straight in Oakland after losing five in a row there. He allowed four home runs in three starts against the A's last season - two from Danny Valencia, whose hit .410 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 18 career games against the Astros.

Stephen Vogt homered Thursday but Oakland (11-12) fell 7-3 at Detroit.

The Athletics, who are 3-7 at home, extended their winning streak to six games by opening a 10-game trip 4-0, but they finished by losing two straight to Toronto and three of four to the Tigers.

Oakland starters have a 6.61 ERA after serving up 11 home runs during a 1-5 stretch.

"If you had told me at the beginning of this that we were going to go 6-4 or 5-5, I would have been OK with that, given the teams we were facing," manager Bob Melvin said. "But with the exception of Rich (Hill), this has been six games of our starting pitching getting beaten up."

Sean Manaea will try to snap the miserable stretch in his major league debut Friday night. The left-hander, who was acquired in the trade that sent Ben Zobrist to Kansas City in July, went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Nashville.

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