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Astros aim to keep momentum going against Indians

HOUSTON -- Momentum tends to be fleeting over the course of a six-month season, but the Houston Astros welcomed the success they enjoyed over the 10 days entering their day off Thursday.

Houston (28-17) claimed its third consecutive series victory with a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday and improved to 7-2 during that nine-game stretch. All three of those series victories came against American League West opponents, with the most recent against the Angels enabling the Astros to build a two-game lead in the division.

"It's fun to win a series, especially against a team like this," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of the Angels, against whom the Astros are 3-3 against this season. Houston is 17-9 in intra-division games.

Right-hander Charlie Morton (5-0, 2.03 ERA) seeks to keep his winning streak intact for the Astros on Friday, when they open a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park. Morton is 8-0 over his last 11 regular-season starts and has one loss over his last 14 dating to last season. He has recorded all three of his double-digit strikeout games at Minute Maid Park, where he is 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA with 51 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings this season.

Morton is 0-2 with a 5.56 ERA over two career starts against the Indians. His second-worst start of 2017 came against Cleveland on May 19 at Minute Maid Park. He allowed four runs, eight hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in a 5-3 loss.

Right-hander Mike Clevinger (3-0, 2.70 ERA) will start for Cleveland. He is 1-1 with a 1.04 ERA over two career starts against the Astros, including an outing last season when he twirled seven shutout innings at Minute Maid Park, allowing two hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in a 3-0 victory on May 20. In three road starts this season, Clevinger is 2-0 with a 0.83 ERA.

The Indians (21-21) embraced an off day on Thursday, particularly on the heels of eight shutout innings from right-hander Trevor Bauer in their 6-0 victory at Detroit on Wednesday. Bauer provided a salve for the Cleveland bullpen, one that yielded three earned runs over 1 1/3 innings in a 6-3 defeat on Monday, and five runs over 2 2/3 innings in a 9-8 setback on Tuesday.

By salvaging the series finale against the Tigers, Cleveland maintained its tenuous grasp on first place in the AL Central. Considered by many as one of the elite teams in the majors, the Indians have scuffled to a .500 record over the opening six weeks of the season. Some of their woes are a product of bad luck -- the Indians are 5-10 in one-run games. However, the Indians are last in the AL in bullpen ERA (5.68), a reversal of fortunes from what was a team strength.

"I think it's very important that we continue to keep working hard and relying on one another and playing as a team," Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said.

"No one is going to feel sorry for us. We understand where we're at."
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