Opposite dugout: Improved Astros look to stay hot with strong set of pitchers on mound in D.C.

AstrosLogo.jpgManager: Bo Porter, second year
Record: 32-39
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: RF George Springer (.245/.341/.470, 12 HR, 36 RBIs); CF Dexter Fowler (.284/.389/.412, 19 XBH, 41 R, 22 RBIs); 2B Jose Altuve (.318/.359/.428, 25 XBH, 22 RBIs, 24 SB); LHP Dallas Keuchel (8-3, 2.38 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats: 0-2, 3 runs scored, 11 runs allowed

Pitching probables
June 17: Dallas Keuchel vs. Tanner Roark, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
June 18: Scott Feldman vs. Gio Gonzalez, 7 p.m., MASN HD

Series breakdown
The Astros come to Washington barely resembling the team that, as recently as 3 1/2 weeks ago, looked well on its way to finishing with the worst record in baseball for the fourth straight season.

Since slipping to a season-worst 15 games under .500 at 17-32 on May 23, the Astros have been one of the hottest teams in baseball, going 15-7 over their last 22 games. Even since a seven-game winning streak that started that stretch, Houston is playing better than .500 ball.

The Astros’ bats and arms have both improved over the last 22 games, leading to the team outscoring opponents 104-78 during that time.

That has helped Houston rise out of the depths of the American League hitting and pitching rankings with a move toward the middle of the pack.

The Astros now stand 12th in the AL with 276 runs while ranking third with 77 homers. Houston is also up to 10th in the AL with a 4.10 ERA, including a 3.85 starters’ ERA, which ranks seventh.

The Nats will get to see two of the Astros’ top three starters in the brief two-game series, with left-hander Dallas Keuchel taking on right-hander Tanner Roark tonight in an exciting pitching match-up.

Keuchel, 26, has been one of the surprises of the season. After entering his third major league campaign 9-18 with a 5.20 ERA in 47 games (38 starts), Keuchel is tied for third in the AL with eight wins and ranks sixth with a 2.38 ERA in 13 starts. He has been exceptional lately, going 6-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a .195 opponents’ batting average in his last seven starts.

The Nats answer with the 27-year-old Roark, who has strung together five straight quality starts and has a 1.93 ERA over his last seven starts.

The pitching duel in the second game of the series isn’t too shabby either, as Astros opening day starter Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.98 ERA) faces left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who returns from the disabled list Wednesday to make his first start since May 17.

Offensively, right fielder George Springer continues to lead the Astros thanks to a ridiculous power display in May, when he hit 10 homers, including seven in seven games from May 21-29. Springer has cooled off since, however, batting .176 with two homers, seven RBIs and 24 strikeouts in 54 at-bats over his last 14 games.

Center fielder Dexter Fowler has picked up some of that slack since moving up to the leadoff spot on June 3. Over his last 13 games, Fowler is batting .412 with an 1.149 OPS to set the tone atop the order.

The decision to call up top prospect Jon Singleton has paid dividends as well. The 22-year-old first baseman is batting just .234, but has an .834 OPS, four homers and 10 RBIs in his first 47 major league at-bats.

The Nats come home having lost four in a row to end a 10-game road trip. With the way the Astros are playing lately, along with the strong set of pitchers scheduled to start in the series, it won’t be easy to snap out of that funk.

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