HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros salvaged a split of their six-game road trip with a victory at Texas on Wednesday, setting the stage for what could be the most critical stretch of their schedule.
Houston returns to Minute Maid Park on Thursday to host the opener of a four-game series with the Chicago White Sox and an 11-game homestand that will carry the Astros (57-31) into the All-Star break.
Following their team record-tying 12-game winning streak last month, the Astros have gone a pedestrian 8-6. They have been unable to shake the Seattle Mariners (55-32) in the chase for the American League West pennant and remain behind the Boston Red Sox (59-29) and New York Yankees (56-28) in pursuit of the best record in the majors.
The Astros could gain significant ground in the standings with a dominating homestand facing two teams below .500, the White Sox and Detroit Tigers (38-50), sandwiched around a four-game series against the Oakland Athletics, against whom Houston is 8-1 this season.
Houston rallied from a four-run deficit to complete the sweep of its two-game set with the Rangers with a 5-4 win. The bullpen was vital, with right-handers Will Harris, Collin McHugh and Ken Giles combining for five innings of scoreless relief, allowing three hits and zero walks.
"I think our bullpen did exactly what we needed," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
The Astros have performed inconsistently since their winning streak, with injuries (shortstop Carlos Correa) and slumps (outfielder George Springer and super utility Marwin Gonzalez) yielding uneven play. Rectifying matters at home against inferior competition might cure ills.
Right-hander Justin Verlander (9-4, 2.12 ERA) will open the homestand for the Astros. Verlander has suffered consecutive losses, allowing nine runs on 16 hits and three walks with 14 strikeouts over 11 2/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays during the final week of June.
Verlander has surrendered at least three runs in four of five starts after doing so only once over his first 13 starts. He is 21-13 with a 3.74 ERA over 43 career starts against Chicago.
The White Sox will counter with left-hander Carlos Rodon (1-3, 4.55 ERA), who will make his sixth start of the season. Rodon made his season debut on June 9 at Boston and allowed a season-high five runs in his last outing, surrendering six hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings in a 13-4 loss at Texas.
Rodon is 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA over four career starts against the Astros.
With their 7-4 loss in Cincinnati to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, the White Sox (30-56) will conclude their stretch of 13 games in 13 days with the four-game series against the Astros. Chicago entered the series finale at Cincinnati with its starters providing the fewest innings in the AL; right-handed starter Dylan Covey continued that trend by working only 3 2/3 innings.
Combine that strenuous bullpen workload with the lack of off-days, and the White Sox will look to Rodon to not only provide a quality start on Thursday but a lengthy one as well.