Streaking Astros travel to Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The surging Houston Astros will take a seven-game winning streak and an American League-best 86-53 record into their series opener against the Oakland Athletics on Friday night at the Oakland Coliseum.

The Astros have slugged 212 home runs, third most in the major leagues, but as manager A.J. Hinch pointed out after a 5-3 victory against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night at Safeco Field, his club is more than just a long-ball hitting machine.

"I think in some ways we're showing ourselves we can win a couple different ways," Hinch said. "We played pretty good baseball tonight. We moved some runners. We had some good baserunning. We obviously delivered a big blow with (Cameron Maybin's ninth-inning) homer.

"We had a lot of action on the bases in terms of some pinch runners. Some really key moments in the game. We're not having to rely necessarily entirely on the home run ball. Home runs balls are kind of separating us on a lot of levels, but it's the things we're doing before that that's putting us in a good position to win. We're pitching, we're hitting, we're playing with some enthusiasm. A pretty good run."

The Astros lead the majors in a long list of offensive categories, including runs (773), RBI (736), batting average (.284), on-base percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.483), OPS (.831) and doubles (291).

No one has to tell the Athletics how lethal the Astros have been this season. Houston leads the season series 12-3 and is a perfect 6-0 in Oakland. The Astros have outscored the A's 92-50 overall and 46-23 at the Coliseum.

A's rookie right-hander Jharel Cotton, who will make his fourth career start against the Astros and third this season, said he welcomes the challenge. And why not? The last time Cotton faced Houston, he allowed two runs on four hits over 6 2/3 innings in a 3-2 victory at Minute Maid Park on Aug. 20.

"Confidence is definitely there," Cotton said. "I'm excited to pitch against them again. They're like one of the best teams in the league, so it's going to be fun to go up against them and give them what I got."

Cotton is 1-1 with a 3.18 ERA, 12 strikeouts and four walks for his career against Houston. He had some of his best stuff the last time he faced the Astros.

"The changeup was working for sure," Cotton said. "The curveball and the cutter in was pretty good to lefties. Just trying to go out there and figure out a plan, attack them. Go out there and do my job, come out on top."

Cotton is 7-10 with a 5.53 ERA in 21 starts overall but 2-0 with a 3.78 ERA in his past three starts.

The A's (58-81) ended a season-high, eight-game losing streak Wednesday afternoon with a 3-1 victory against the Los Angeles Angels, avoiding a sweep in the three-game series.

For more games, the rebuilding A's have as many as five or six rookies in their lineup. Despite the mounting losses, the young players are keeping their spirits high, Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.

"It's awfully tough in a losing streak to go out there with the determination that you're seeing every night from these guys," Melvin said. "They refuse to let it get them down, refuse to give in."

The Astros will send right-hander Collin McHugh to the mound for his ninth start of the season. He missed the first half of the season because of an impingement in his right elbow but is 2-2 with a 3.25 ERA since coming off the disabled list July 22.

McHugh has allowed two or fewer runs in six of his eight starts, including a 3-0 victory against the A's on Aug. 19 in Houston. He blanked the A's for six innings on six hits, striking out three and walking one.

McHugh is 7-1 with a 2.73 ERA in 10 career starts against the A's.
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