HOUSTON -- The standard of excellence is so high for Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, that one weekend blip of stalled production rings alarms.
During the previous homestand -- a brief three-game set against the Texas Rangers, Altuve went 0-for-13 to drop his season average to .306. Altuve has yet to flash the surprising power that had become a part of his arsenal, leaving some to worry when he would find his stroke.
In the Astros' 11-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park, Altuve extended his hitting streak to seven games with a 2-for-5 effort that included two RBIs. Since the Texas series, Altuve is batting .393 while Houston (31-18) has won five of seven heading into Wednesday's series finale against the San Francisco Giants.
"He doesn't have to carry us for our team to be good," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Altuve. "Obviously when we're at our best he's an integral part of that, but I don't think there's a lot of pressure on any of our guys to have to be the guy. That's the way this team's built, it's the way that we perform. If we're operating at a great level, if he does have a bad stretch or an 0-for-4, usually someone else is stepping up and doing well.
"A lot of it gets fixated on Jose because he's hitting third or second and he's a marquee player and a superstar player, but the reality is if we're the best version of ourselves our team is pretty deep and can we beat you from any time in the order."
Right-hander Justin Verlander (5-2, 1.05 ERA) gets the start for the Astros on Wednesday in the series finale. Verlander leads the majors in ERA, WHIP (0.72), opponent batting average (.148) and opponent OPS (.449), and is coming off his first complete game of the season, a 2-0 victory over the Angels.
Verlander has faced the Giants once previously, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts over six innings while pitching for the Detroit Tigers in an 8-6 loss at AT&T Park on June 16, 2008. Verlander did not factor into the decision.
Right-hander Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 6.30 ERA) is slated for his seventh start of the season for San Francisco on Wednesday. He received a no-decision in his previous appearance Thursday, a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies in 12 innings when he allowed three runs on five hits and three walks with three strikeouts over a season-high 6 2/3 innings. Samardzija is 6-3 with a 3.51 ERA over 22 career appearances (seven starts) against the Astros.
San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner, on the 60-day disabled list with a fractured fifth metacarpal, faced hitters Tuesday and is set to be sent out on a rehab assignment. Bumgarner threw 30 pitches in a simulated game, resting for five minutes in between two intervals of 15. The Giants (24-25) have been without their ace since spring training.
"Really good work," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Used all his pitches and he's good to go. Now it's just a case if he comes out of this fine tomorrow which we anticipate him doing, and then he'll go to [Triple-A] Sacramento on Saturday and that will start his rehab.
"He'll probably be around 45 pitches the first [start]. I'd say at least three [rehab starts]."