Fresh off winning the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award earlier this week, Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman will try to stay on a roll when the defending World Series champions open a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night at Angel Stadium.
Bregman hit a tiebreaking home run in the top of the 10th inning on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C. and the American League held on for an 8-6 victory.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch told MLB.com that Bregman took advantage of being around the best players in the game.
"He's always studying, he's always thinking, he's always watching," Hinch said. "He's a smart player. I've watched him ask a million questions to different players that have come through here.
"I'm not sure if anyone that I've come across in the big leagues loves baseball more than Alex Bregman. It starts with that and he continues to get better."
Bregman is hitting .288 with 20 home runs, one more than he hit last season, and 64 RBIs.
The Astros (64-35) exit the break with the third-best winning percentage in the majors behind the Boston Red Sox (68-30) and New York Yankees (62-33). Houston owns a five-game lead over the second-place Seattle Mariners, who lost four straight heading into the All-Star break.
The Angels (49-48) are nine game behind the Mariners for the second wild card from the AL.
Los Angeles has been decimated by injuries to its pitching staff since winning 13 of its first 16 games to start the season, but the Angels remain within reach of a playoff spot.
"There are definitely some things that we've been talking about for the last six weeks or so that we need to do better that we're working very hard at," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com. "Hopefully, we'll get more continuity as we get some guys back in our rotation. Some guys can swing the bats a little bit better.
"We feel we have the same optimism about reaching our goal, but we know that there are some things we need to do better."
Los Angeles left-hander Tyler Skaggs had a strong first half and he'll get the start in the series opener against Houston.
Skaggs (7-5, 2.57) is 4-2 in eight career starts against Houston with a 2.76 ERA. He faced the Astros on April 23 in Houston and blanked them on four hits in seven innings of a 2-0 win.
Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the reigning AL MVP, is 7-for-18 in his career against Skaggs.
Astros outfielder George Springer, who homered in the next at-bat after Bregman in the All-Star Game, is 0-for-16 in his career against Skaggs, but Bregman predicts big things for Springer.
"I think George Springer is going to be hot for the second half," Bregman told MLB.com. "The back-to-back push."
Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel (7-8, 3.75) will oppose Skaggs and try to maintain his success against the Angels.
Keuchel is 10-2 in his career against Los Angeles with a 3.62 ERA and has won his past four decisions against the Angels. The 2015 AL Cy Young winner last faced them on May 5, 2017, and allowed five runs and seven hits in seven innings of a 7-6 win.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2014 and 2016 AL MVP, is 14-for-41 in his career against Keuchel with two home runs and 12 strikeouts.