Via a pair of late-inning rallies, the Astros (73-42) capped a two-game interleague series sweep of the Giants and completed a challenging eight-game road trip at 6-2. They won twice at ATT Park without All-Star outfielder George Springer, who this week joined fellow All-Stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa on the 10-day disabled list.
Even without that trio, as well as missing right-handers Lance McCullers and Chris Devenski and catcher Brian McCann, Houston had enough to squeeze by the Giants and put a little more distance between themselves and the Oakland Athletics, who lost later on Tuesday.
"It just kind of shows what we're capable of doing even with some of our big guns out," Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel said.
Next on the horizon for the Astros is an opportunity to build a greater lead over another pursuer. Houston opens a four-game series with Seattle (65-50) on Thursday at Minute Maid Park with an eight-game lead over the third-place Mariners in the American League West.
Claim that series and the Astros would extend their lead over Seattle to double digits with roughly six weeks left in the season and six games against the Mariners left on the schedule.
The Astros should be approaching full strength by the time they travel to Seattle for a three-game set later this month.
Correa is expected to return from a six-week stint on the DL this weekend while Springer could travel with the club when it departs for a nine-game road trip against divisional foes starting next weekend in Oakland. Altuve might be back by then as well.
Right-hander Justin Verlander (11-6, 2.19 ERA) will start the opener for the Astros one victory shy of 200 wins for his career. He pitched exceptionally in his previous outing, limiting the Los Angeles Dodgers to one run on four hits and one walk with a career-high-tying 14 strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings in a 2-1 win.
By Game Score (80), it marked the best outing for Verlander since May 16 when he fired a five-hit shutout in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels.
Verlander is 12-8 with a 3.01 ERA over 24 career starts against Seattle. This will mark his first appearance against the Mariners this season.
Seattle will counter with left-hander James Paxton (9-5, 3.51), who has dominated the Astros this season. Paxton is 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA over three starts against Houston in 2018. He twirled seven shutout innings against the Astros on July 30 at Safeco Field, surrendering three hits while recording eight strikeouts.
Paxton is 6-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 11 starts against Houston in his career.
Including their 11-7 loss to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, the Mariners have dropped seven of their last nine games and are 7-11 since the All-Star break.
Seattle was a season-high 24 games over .500 on July 5 and has hit the skids in lockstep with Oakland catching fire and surpassing the Mariners in the AL West and wild-card standings, with the New York Yankees setting the pace in the latter.
One measure of good news for the Mariners: Veteran Robinson Cano will return from his 80-game, PED-related suspension following the series in Houston. The Mariners are 43-33 without Cano, who was slashing .287/.385/.441 with four homers and 23 RBIs at the time of his suspension.