Following a 47-game absence courtesy of a left hamstring strain, Astros utility man Aledmys Diaz made his triumphant return Monday at Minute Maid Park, slugging a three-run home run as Houston ran roughshod over the visiting Oakland Athletics in the opener of a pivotal three-game series.
The bigger picture for the Astros is what Diaz and his return represent.
Houston, up to a season-best 28 games over .500 following the 11-1 victory, has done far better than tread water while overcoming the absences of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Diaz and Carlos Correa, who is slated to return from a broken rib on Friday when the Astros open a three-game interleague road series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Correa has been sidelined since May 27.
For the first time in more than two months, the Astros are on the brink of being whole again. The lineup card Houston manager A.J. Hinch filled out Monday against the Athletics provided a snapshot of just how close his team is to normalcy.
"We've had to go through a lot of different guys, some that we expected to be here, some that we didn't," Hinch said. "We've seen the emergence of a middle-of-the-order bat in (rookie Yordan) Alvarez. Our bench players have had to play a little bit more regular. We've had a lot of good things go for us.
"We've worked really hard to continue the winning ways and a good mindset, and it's a credit to the players for just playing the game today and worrying about the injuries and what names are in the lineup later."
Houston left-hander Wade Miley (8-4, 3.25 ERA) will start Tuesday as the Astros look to extend their winning streak to seven games. He is 5-2 with a 1.61 ERA over seven career starts against the Athletics, including a 1-1 mark with a 1.54 ERA over two starts this season.
Miley has just one loss over his past eight starts, limiting batters to a .189 average in that span. He has allowed more than three earned runs in only two starts this season.
Right-hander Mike Fiers (9-3, 3.61 ERA) will start as the Athletics attempt to square the series.
Fiers is 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a .197 opponents' batting average over his past 13 starts dating back to his May 7 no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds. The winning streak is a career best.
The 34-year-old veteran is 1-2 with a 6.15 ERA over five career starts against the Astros, for whom he went 21-19 with a 4.59 ERA in 70 appearances (67 starts) from 2015-17.
For Oakland, the only benefit of the lopsided loss was that a handful of regulars were replaced after things got out of hand. With the Athletics in dogged pursuit of both the Astros in the American League West and a postseason spot possibly via the wild card, unexpected rest is a welcome surprise.
Shortstop Marcus Semien and first baseman Matt Olson were pulled in the middle of the fourth inning after two plate appearances. Third baseman Matt Chapman was lifted an inning later. If fresher legs for the remainder of this series are born of this blowout, the Athletics will take them.
"If there is any bright side to it, we rested some of the guys early in the game that have been playing quite a bit," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.
--Field Level Media
Astros, nearing full health, out to seal series win over A's