Astros, Twins on a roll as showdown starts

The Houston Astros have won five of seven games on a 10-game road swing but have three more contests awaiting them against the Minnesota Twins, beginning Friday night, before they can deem the trip a success.

After a slow start to the season, the Astros are three games over .500 and have won 12 of their past 14 games.

Houston took three of four games against the Toronto Blue Jays this week, including 5-3 on Thursday. Jeremy Pena had a single and a home run, lifting his season average to .280. He has 12 hits and 10 RBIs in the past 10 games.

“I feel like the team has good vibes right now,” Pena said. “… I feel like we’re all on the same page.”

All-Star Yordan Alvarez has scored 11 runs in the past seven games. Houston has at least five runs in 11 of the 14 games during its current surge. The Astros are doing it without one of their top hitters, Kyle Tucker, who is still recovering from a shin injury.

“Our goal is to finish this first half strong and playing our best,” Astros manager Joe Espada said. “I feel like we’re there right now. We came out here, and we took care of business.”

The Twins also are rolling, with eight wins in their past 11 outings as they have climbed 11 games over .500. Their offense, too, has been scorching, posting at least five runs in six of the past eight games.

That includes a 12-3, rain-shortened contest against Detroit on Thursday. Jose Miranda and Ryan Jeffers combined for six runs, eight hits and seven RBIs for Minnesota.

The Twins lost one of their big bats this week, as third baseman Royce Lewis was placed on the injured list with a right adductor strain.

Right-hander Pablo Lopez will start the series opener against the Astros. Lopez (8-6, 4.88 ERA) gave up 14 earned runs in 13 innings during his first three starts in June.

He bounced back in his two most recent outings. He dominated the Oakland Athletics with eight shutout innings while racking up 14 strikeouts on June 23 in a 3-0 win.

On Saturday, he held the Seattle Mariners to one run and four hits while striking out nine in six innings to earn the 5-1 victory. Lopez retired the final 10 batters he faced after laboring through the first three innings. He threw 32 pitches in the third inning.

“That’s a combination of really good ability, but also there’s almost a professionalism aspect to it,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s hard to refocus sometimes when you expend that much energy, both mental and physical energy trying to hold it together and get through that really difficult inning.

“Sometimes guys might only have another good inning after that, maybe one, maybe two. But Pablo was able to not just pull it together, but he pitched his best after working his butt off in that inning.”

The Astros will use reliever Shawn Dubin as an opener on Friday. Dubin (1-1, 4.91 ERA) has never faced the Twins. He threw 3 1/3 hitless innings against the New York Mets on Sunday in his team’s 10-5 victory in extra innings.

Lopez is 1-0 with a 2.38 ERA in two career starts against Houston.

–Field Level Media