Houston Astros shortstop Jose Altuve. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
HOUSTON -- One obvious benefit of a club-record-tying 12-game winning streak and 13 victories in 14 games is the positive impact it has on the standings, something the Houston Astros could attest to before dropping the opener of a three-game set with the Kansas City Royals on Friday.
On June 5, the Astros (50-27) were the scuffling team, falling two games behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West with a 7-1 loss, their seventh setback over 10 games. The entered this weekend 3 1/2 games ahead of the Mariners and maintained that lead Friday when Seattle lost at Boston 14-10.
Midseason standings are fluid, and it's far too early to get enthralled by scoreboard watching.
"I think I pay attention to our team," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I appreciate the stress that comes with whether you're a game up or a game back or five games up or five games back. I really think we're chasing ourselves. I think we need to play our best baseball and we'll sort out the standings as it gets towards the later end of the season.
"I'm aware of it because I'm a baseball enthusiast; I watch the scores all the time. It's what I do. I'm not emotionally drained when other teams go on win streaks and I'm not emotionally charged by a couple losses. I just want our team to play well."
Right-hander Lance McCullers (8-3, 3.77 ERA) gets the start in the middle game of the series for Houston. He is 1-0 with a 2.33 ERA over four career starts against the Royals, and he recorded a no-decision in his previous outing against them after allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over six innings in a 7-4 Astros victory on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals will hand the ball to right-hander Ian Kennedy (1-7, 5.31 ERA) on Saturday. Kennedy is winless over his last 13 starts, one behind Athletics right-hander Chris Bassitt for the longest active streak in the majors. He is 0-7 with a 6.12 ERA since his only win on April 7.
Kennedy is 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA over five career starts against the Astros, including 3-0 with a 0.92 ERA over three starts at Minute Maid Park.
The Royals (23-52) on Friday began transitioning veteran Alcides Escobar off shortstop, ending his string of 407 consecutive starts there by moving him to center field for the opener of their series with the Astros. Escobar finished 2-for-2 with two walks, marking the first time since Sept. 6, 2017, against the Detroit Tigers that he reached base in all four plate appearances.
Escobar, a free agent following the season, has been a mainstay at short for the Royals since 2011. Before making his first career start in center on Friday, Escobar last played that position on Aug. 2, 2010, while with the Milwaukee Brewers, shifting in the eighth inning after starting at shortstop.
"We know that he's athletic enough to play it and we want Mondi (22-year-old infielder Adalberto Mondesi) playing short," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Escobar. "We just think that the time is right. We talked to the coaches about it and they feel like he'll be fine.
"He's really excited about the opportunity at playing multiple positions, not only center but some third and some second. He knows that his next career move is probably going to be a utility-type player on the field and he's anxious to start showing people that he can handle it."