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Sizzling Braves, Astros square off for World Series rematch

Two of the hottest teams in the majors will collide in a rematch of last year’s World Series when the Houston Astros visit the Atlanta Braves to start a three-game set on Friday night.

The Astros have won six of their past eight games and have overtaken the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League. The AL West leaders are coming off a four-game split against the Chicago White Sox that concluded on Thursday with a 21-5 Houston win.

The Astros tied the second-best run total in franchise history and matched their single-game hit record with 25.

The second-place Braves, who have won nine of their past 10 games, are coming off a 3-1 series win over the National League East-leading New York Mets. Atlanta trails New York by just 3 1/2 games in the division following a 3-2 victory in the series finale on Thursday.

The Braves, the defending World Series champion, are in a 13-game stretch that includes 10 games against teams currently in playoff position.

“We’ve just got to go and do whatever we can do to win tomorrow, and that’s all we can try to do is just continue to win series, win the next game,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.

The series opener on Friday will match Atlanta right-hander Kyle Wright (14-5, 3.14 ERA) against Houston right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0, 0.00).

Wright recently experienced some right-arm fatigue, so he sat out a turn in the rotation. He has thrown a career-high 134 2/3 innings and has made 22 starts. His last appearance came Aug. 10 at Boston, and he earned the win after going six innings and giving up one run on six hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Wright has never faced Houston.

McCullers, who has missed most of this season due to a right flexor tendon strain sustained in the 2021 playoffs, will make his second start since being activated from the 60-day injured list. On Saturday against the Oakland A’s, he returned to pitch six scoreless innings, giving up two hits and four walks.

He struck out five en route to an 8-0 victory.

“He was surprisingly sharp with most of his pitches, especially his breaking stuff,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “He was very competitive. We didn’t know what to expect. He was great.”

McCullers said, “All in all, I thought my stuff was really good, especially as the game went along.”

McCullers has never faced the Braves.

Houston has benefited from the offensive resurgence of Alex Bregman, who was plagued by injuries the last two seasons. The third baseman went 4-for-6 with two homers and six RBIs on Thursday, and he is batting .432 (16-for-37) with five homers, 16 RBIs, six walks and only two strikeouts over the past 10 games.

“I’m trying to get back to the mechanics I had,” Bregman said. “We’ve been working hard this year, and a lot of people have helped me out working in the cage. It’s been good the last few months of being more consistent.”

The Braves got a nice series in New York from Robbie Grossman, who started in left field and hit .364 (4-for-11) with two homers, four RBIs and three runs in the four games. It appears Grossman, acquired from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline this month, has displaced Marcell Ozuna, who did not play against New York.

“The guys have worked with him, noticed some things, and he’s put it into play,” Snitker said of Grossman. “He’s been really good. He’s been a good addition.”

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