A little more than two months into the season, Astros pitchers are finally figuring out how best to attack opposing hitters. And the whole team is reaping the rewards.
Last-place Houston has turned into one of baseball's hottest clubs, winning seven of its last nine games. And manager Bo Porter says most of it has to do with the pitching.
"I think early in the year, there was some miscommunication about how we were going to attack this guy or that guy," Porter said. "Now, we're all on the same page there.
"It starts with our starting pitchers and our situational hitting has been tremendous during this stretch. When we were losing a lot of those close games, it was a direct reflection of our pitching not minimizing that one big inning. We seemed to have turned that corner."
Houston's next test comes Friday against the scuffling Royals. Kansas City has lost 22 of its last 30, though it pulled out a series win against Minnesota on Thursday night. It was the Royals' first series victory since they took two games against the Angels on May 13 and 15.
The Astros will certainly be challenged Friday night by Royals ace James Shields, who turned in his ninth quality start in his last 10 outings against the Rangers on Saturday.
The righty gave up one run on five hits over seven innings of a 4-1 win. He struck out five in the sixth consecutive outing the Royals scored three or fewer runs for him. He's 0-4 in his last six starts, despite posting a 2.66 ERA during that stretch.
"I don't care about run support, as long as we win the game," Shields said after receiving a no-decision against Texas. "We had a good win. We fought hard. I was able to do my job."
Astros: Lyles takes the mound
• Jordan Lyles will get the start for the Astros on Friday. He's been solid of late, with a 1.93 ERA in his last three outings but has rarely lasted into the later innings this year.
Lyles pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Angels his last time out, getting the win while allowing two runs.
• Second baseman Jose Altuve missed Thursday's game with an aggravated groin injury, but Porter said he expects Altuve back for Friday's action.
Royals: Butler hot at home
• Slugger Billy Butler is 11 for his last 19 (.579) at home and is batting .289 there this season.
He is one homer shy of tying Bo Jackson for 10th on Kansas City's all-time list (109).
• Shields has pitched at least six innings in 26 straight starts.
• Kansas City is 18-5 when scoring at least four runs, 7-27 with three runs or less.
The Astros swept all six games on their last road trip, and now they embark on another.
"It doesn't matter to us necessarily, home or road," Porter said. "It's not like we're going to play by a different set of rules. It's baseball. These guys are hitting their stride and that's how you put yourself in position to win ballgames. There's a lot of confidence around here."
And playing at home has not necessarily meant success for the Royals lately. Kansas City's 4-1 win on Wednesday night was its first at Kauffman Stadium since May 5, snapping an ugly club record 11-game home drought.