Astros embrace comforts of home ahead of opener vs. Twins

National Sports

The Houston Astros returned home early Thursday following a difficult road trip that took them through Seattle and San Francisco before concluding in Los Angeles. The challenge presented equal parts physical and mental for the club.

After splitting the first six contests of their eight-game trip, the Astros faced the Dodgers before a hostile, capacity crowd still seething over the cheating scandal that placed the 2017 World Series between the two clubs front and center.

The Astros have dealt with a mostly consistent cascade of booing and jeering on the road this season, but what they faced at Dodger Stadium was the apex of that derision. The team addressed that unforgiving environment like it has others this season.

Minute Maid Park, site of the Astros’ four-game series against the Minnesota Twins starting Thursday, should provide Houston some solace. However, the Astros’ camaraderie has never been questioned, especially after they split the two-game set at Dodger Stadium.

“No. 1, you have no choice,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of the club sticking together prior to a 7-5 loss in the series finale Wednesday. “You either thrive or succumb to it, and if you succumb to it the crowd has won. You have to thrive for each other.”

Left-hander Framber Valdez (7-2, 3.01 ERA) will start the series opener for the Astros Thursday.

Valdez earned the victory over the San Francisco Giants last Friday, allowing two runs on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts over five innings in a 9-6 win. Since his return from the injured list May 28, Valdez is tied for the American League lead in wins (seven) and ranks third in both innings (71 2/3) and ERA.

Valdez is 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA over five career appearances (two starts) against the Twins, including a 14-3 road victory on June 13. He allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts over seven innings.

Rookie right-hander Griffin Jax (1-1, 6.41 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Twins Thursday.

Jax, making his eighth career appearance and fourth start, did not factor into the decision in his previous start in St. Louis last Friday. He allowed one run on two hits with two walks and two strikeouts over a career high-tying five innings during the Twins’ 5-1 loss. Jax has permitted one run in each of his past two starts. Jax will make his first career appearance against the Astros.

Minnesota fell 6-5 on the road to the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, dropping to 6-13 since the All-Star break. The Twins are 0-4-2 over their past six series, but after jettisoning their top slugger (Nelson Cruz) and staff ace (Jose Berrios) prior to the trading deadline, Minnesota has shown no signs of folding despite occupying the basement in the AL Central.

“Our guys showed some resilience out there and have continued to just go make things happen,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “The resiliency and the toughness from our guys is showing up.”

–Field Level Media

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