Take away George Springer and Jose Altuve, and maybe the Houston Astros start to look a little more beatable.
The Boston Red Sox finally snapped Houston's 10-game winning streak Sunday with a 4-3 victory after Springer left the game with lower back stiffness. The Astros were already playing without Altuve, on the injured list with a strained left hamstring, but that injury did little to slow Houston. Even after Sunday's loss, the Astros have the best record and best run differential in the major leagues. They lead the AL West by 8 1/2 games.
Altuve hasn't played since May 10, so Houston's recent torrid stretch took place largely without him. That's a scary thought for the rest of the American League. In their first four games without their star second baseman, the Astros scored 45 runs against the Rangers and Tigers.
"Our guys are seeing the ball really well and making it tough on them," Houston manager AJ Hinch said while the Astros were in Detroit. "Driving the pitch counts through the roof."
The Astros lead the major leagues in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Springer and Alex Bregman are 1-2 in the AL in homers, and Springer is the league's RBI leader. Houston has four of the AL's top 10 hitters in OPS (Springer, Bregman, Carlos Correa and Michael Brantley) and three of the top six in batting average (Josh Reddick, Brantley and Springer).
Players such as Robinson Chirinos and Jake Marisnick are contributing as well.
"We knew we had built an offence that was very deep and very long, and a lineup that was tough to get through," Hinch said. "In a long year, you're going to need contributions from everybody."
With a pitching staff that includes Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, the Astros look as well-rounded as any team in the game. Even the bullpen is making news, with Ryan Pressly setting a record Friday with his 39th consecutive scoreless appearance.
With a 10-game homestand starting Monday, Houston has a chance to turn the division race into a rout after winning it by six games last year and by 21 in 2017.
Elsewhere around the majors:
Starting pitching depth has been a strength for the Dodgers for a while, and it's been on full display this year. Clayton Kershaw's efforts (3-0 with a 3.40 ERA) have actually been overshadowed by what teammate Hyun-Jin Ryu is doing. Ryu is 6-1 with a 1.52 ERA, and he has a 31-inning shutout streak after pitching seven innings Sunday in a win over Cincinnati.
Like last year, Bryce Harper is combining an unimpressive batting average (.235) with very impressive power. Harper connected for a 466-foot home run in Philadelphia's 2-1 win over Colorado on Saturday.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Boston's Chris Sale struck out 17 against Colorado on Tuesday night, becoming the first pitcher in major league history to fan that many in a start of no more than seven innings. He gave up three hits in seven innings and left with a 3-2 lead, but the Rockies went on to win 5-4 in 11.
Honourable mention: Kris Bryant of the Cubs hit three homers in a win at Washington on Friday night. Cleveland's Shane Bieber struck out 15 with no walks while shutting out Baltimore on Sunday.
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