The Houston Astros emerged from the All-Star break facing a daunting schedule of 19 games over 18 days in a stretch that started with a doubleheader against the team they were pursuing for the best record in the American League: the New York Yankees.
Houston swept that doubleheader on July 21 but overall momentum proved elusive during the just-completed, 19-game run as they went a disappointing 11-8.
After a much-needed day off Monday, the Astros will open a six-game homestand on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers.
After closing to within a half-game of the Yankees with a 9-3 road win over the Cleveland Guardians on Friday, the Astros dropped the final two games of that four-game set, failing to take advantage of the Yankees’ five-game losing skid through the weekend.
“(The) off day is important,” said Astros acting manager Joe Espada, who took over Friday with Dusty Baker out after testing positive for COVID-19. “Everyone’s excited to come home and spend some time with their families.”
Of the Astros’ final 21 games this month, 12 are at home, with two more off days mixed in. It gives Houston a prime opportunity to chase down the Yankees for best record in the AL and the home-field advantage in the playoffs that comes with it.
Astros right-hander Jose Urquidy (10-4, 3.62 ERA) is the scheduled to pitch Tuesday. He tossed seven scoreless innings Wednesday in a 6-1 win over the Boston Red Sox, allowing two hits while recording 10 strikeouts in what was his ninth consecutive quality start.
Urquidy is 5-1 with a 2.29 ERA and .492 opponents’ OPS during that nine-start stretch, with 47 strikeouts against 12 walks.
Urquidy is 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA over six career starts against the Rangers. He is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts against Texas this season after surrendering three runs on five hits with four strikeouts over six innings in a no-decision June 14.
Left-hander Martin Perez (9-2, 2.47 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Rangers. He is unbeaten over his past 19 starts, going 9-0 with a 2.20 ERA and a .596 opponents’ OPS.
Perez has been even sharper of late, posting four consecutive starts with just one run allowed in each while going 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA and a .537 opponents’ OPS. Perez has 30 strikeouts against 12 walks in 25 innings during that span.
Perez is 9-5 with a 2.64 ERA over 16 career starts against the Astros. He has dominated Houston in two starts this season, going 1-0 with a 0.56 ERA while allowing one run on 10 hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in 16 innings, including a 3-0 complete-game shutout on May 20.
With their 8-2 home loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, the Rangers missed the chance to claim the four-game series. Texas is 1-3-1 over its five series following the All-Star break, not counting a one-game “series” win over the Miami Marlins.
Like Houston, the Rangers played for 18 consecutive games before having Monday off.
“I know we’ve got a tough series in Houston, but hopefully we’ll be a little bit refreshed after that long stretch of games,” Texas manager Chris Woodward said.