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At full strength, Astros continue rolling behind Altuve, Tucker

HOUSTON — The Astros have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star break, thanks to a lineup that’s gotten pretty healthy and the addition of ace pitcher Justin Verlander to the rotation in a trade with the Mets on Aug. 1.

Just ask the Angels, who were on the wrong end of a second consecutive 11-3 drubbing at the hands of the Astros on Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, led by All-Star outfielder Kyle Tucker’s four RBIs. The Astros are 18-9 since the All-Star break, averaging six runs per game, and are a season-high 18 games over .500 at 68-50.

“The last couple of days our offense has really come alive, the last week really,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s great to have all these guys back.”

Here are three reasons why the Astros are rolling:

Jose Altuve on a tear
After missing the first 43 games of the season while he recovered from a fractured right thumb, Altuve has been a force at the top of Houston’s lineup. He went 3-for-4 with a double and three runs scored Saturday, extending his hitting streak to 14 games, during which he’s batting .456 with 19 runs scored and a 1.256 OPS.

“Just trying to battle every single at-bat,” he said. “We know getting hits isn’t easy. You have to go out there and stick with your plan and that’s what we’re doing.”

Altuve, who’s slashing .320/.418/.547 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in 47 games this year, has 1,993 hits, putting him seven shy of joining Craig Biggio (3,060) and Jeff Bagwell (2,314) as the only players in franchise history with 2,000 hits.

“It’s really nice when he’s going hot,” Tucker said. “Hopefully he can continue this throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs, whenever that time is. He’s just that kind of player that comes to the field every day and works hard and just goes out there and does his thing.”

Because he’s been on the injured list for 60 games this year, Altuve will be in the lineup as designated hitter Sunday as Baker tries not to overdo it with his playing time.

“He’s been on base a lot,” Baker said. “We had to kind of monitor him. That’s why I’m giving him a couple of innings off, which ends up being a big deal. He’s DHing tomorrow, which could take a little bit of pressure off him and keep him fresh and keep him strong.”

Tucker’s elite play
The All-Star right-fielder hit a three-run homer to right field in the fourth inning Saturday that put the Astros ahead, 4-0, and later added an RBI single to left field in the fifth. The homer off Tyler Anderson was his ninth of the season against left-handed pitching, which ties Shohei Ohtani for the most by a left-handed batter against a southpaw this year.

“Pitching-wise, I don’t mind whether they’re a lefty or a righty,” he said. “Some guys are more comfortable than others, but that’s kind of how it is. It’s not necessarily what arm they throw, just how tough of a pitcher it is. This is the big leagues and there’s a lot of really good pitchers. I’m going out there and doing the best I can to hit the ball hard, and it’s been working pretty well lately.”

Tucker’s four RBIs give him 88 for the season, which is second in the American League to the Rangers’ Adolis García. He’s also among league leaders in OPS (.898), slugging percentage (.519), batting average (.297) and home runs (22) as he chases a 30-30 season (24 steals).

“I know Shohei is having a crazy season, MVP type of season, but Tucker is having a great, great year,” Altuve said. “He should be up there with the MVPs. I think that said it all. He’s that kind of player. He’s amazing the way he plays. … Just one of my favorite players.”

Emergence of France
Rookie right-hander J.P. France, making his first start since July 31 because he was temporarily moved to the bullpen, held the Angels to two runs and four hits while striking out five batters in seven innings. He’s pitched seven innings in five of his last seven starts, including four in a row. He is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in seven starts since June 29.

France’s 11 quality starts ties teammate Hunter Brown for the most in the Major Leagues by a rookie, and he’s tied Framber Valdez for the team lead with nine wins, which leads AL rookies. 

“I try not to just compare myself to anybody, just try to pitch my game,” he said. “That’s awesome to have that stat. Again, I take it one game at a time and give my team a chance to win.”

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