Tucker's HR Hammers Halos
Division Lead Now 6-1/2, Rangers Next

Gurriel: Bat heating up
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
Lance McCullers became the first Astros pitcher to notch his 12th win Sunday as he spun six innings of three-hit pitching. Kyle Tucker provided the decisive two-run homer to give Houston a 3-1 victory over Anaheim to claim two of a three-game home series and complete a 4-2 homestand. With the losses of both Oakland and Seattle, Houston's division lead grew to 6-1/2 games while their magic number dwindled to 14.

McCullers was supported by the A-team of relievers, namely Ryne Stanek, Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly, who notched his 24th save. The trio allowed just one hit and one walk while fanning four.

Yuli Gurriel had a 4-for-4 afternoon, driving in the first run of the game and scoring ahead of Tucker's blast. Yuli is batting .357 in his last 11 games.

On Friday night, Houston blew past the Angels, 10-5, as Framber Valdez won his 10th of the year. A sixth-run fourth put the game out of reach. While no homers were hit, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa each had three-hit nights as Bregman drove in four. The Astros dropped Saturday's contest, 4-2, as four early runs off Luis Garcia was more than the Houston offense could overcome.

The next series on the schedule is just a short drive up I-45 to Arlington for a four-game set against the lowly Rangers. Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.28 ERA) is slated to pitch the Monday opener against Spencer Howard (0-3). This could be the game Odorizzi shows he can complete six innings. It could put a lot of talk to rest if he can accomplish that.

Zack Greinke (11-5, 3.66) is set to be activated off the Injured List in time to pitch Tuesday's contest. Former Astro Jordan Lyles (8-11) gets the ball for the Rangers. Jose Urquidy (6-3, 3.51), who had a short outing in his last start, will challenge Kohei Arihara (2-3) in the Wednesday night duel. Valdez (10-5, 3.26) will be Houston's starter in the Thursday finale while the Rangers' hurler has yet to be named as of Sunday night. All four matchups have 7:05 p.m. Central start times.

Now that Greinke is back, the Astros will need to decide what to do with their starting rotation in the season's final weeks. They could return to the six-man rotation that worked so well for them in late June/early July or they could push either Odorizzi or Garcia to the bullpen to be used in long relief. Garcia has thrown 139 innings so far whereas his previous high was 109 innings in the minors in 2019. Odorizzi's issue is more about effectiveness the third time through a lineup.

Outfielder Michael Brantley was held out of Sunday's game due to discomfort in his right knee. He was taken out in the fourth inning of Saturday's contest. Backup catcher Jason Castro is still recovering from his own right knee pain. He's expected to make some minor league rehab starts but there's no rush to get him back with the big club while the Astros maintain a solid lead in their division. Relievers Pedro Baez and Rafael Montero are still recovering from soreness in their right shoulders and it remains to be seen if either will be in the Astros' postseason plans.

The Astros go right back to Houston this upcoming weekend for a three-game series with Arizona before starting their final road trip of the regular season. The long slog of a season is almost over and now is the time to fine-tune the regulars while also not overworking them. The goal is to have everyone healthy and peaking in time for the playoffs.

- Bob Hulsey