A lethal combination of power and speed has helped the Houston Astros to what could be their best season in over a decade.
It's their starting pitching, however, that is most responsible for their run of success lately.
Scott Kazmir will try to continue an impressive run by Houston's starters Friday night when the AL West leaders open a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
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While improvement was expected from the Astros after six consecutive losing seasons, surpassing last year's win total with a five-game division lead at this point seemed highly unlikely.
Wednesday's 6-2 victory at Yankee Stadium was Houston's seventh win in nine games and 71st of the season, one more than it had all of 2014. Evan Gattis hit a pair of homers and Collin McHugh became the ninth straight Astros starter to allow two runs or fewer, a franchise record.
With almost six weeks left, Houston (71-57) already has achieved its best season since 2010 and is on pace for its first 90-win campaign since finishing 92-70 in 2004.
"You could tell the pieces were here,'' said Gattis, who went 6 for 12 with three home runs and six RBIs in New York. ''We're not on an island out there. We could see it.''
Houston leads the AL with a 3.30 ERA, including a major league-best 2.06 mark since Aug. 4.
"It's been nice," manager A.J. Hinch told MLB's official website. "I don't know if it's the extra rest or the momentum, but they're trying to all out-do each other. There's a little competitiveness in there."
Versatility may be the Astros' biggest strength. Besides the outstanding pitching, they lead the majors in homers (174) and the AL in stolen bases (97).
''We have a lot of strengths,'' Hinch said. ''We can do a lot of damage.''
Kazmir (7-8, 2.39 ERA) has made Houston's rotation even more formidable, going 2-3 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts with his new team.
He ended a three-start losing streak Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing one run over six innings with eight strikeouts while outpitching Zack Greinke in a 3-1 victory.
The left-hander limited the Twins to one run over 8 1-3 innings in his final start for Oakland on July 18.
Most of Minnesota's roster has struggled against Kazmir but Trevor Plouffe (8 for 24) is an exception.
After winning five of six against the first-place Dodgers and wild card-leading Yankees, Houston faces another challenge against the Twins (65-62), who are 38-24 at home and had their season-best six-game win streak snapped with Thursday's 5-4 loss at Tampa Bay.
''You try to get greedy,'' manager Paul Molitor said. ''You try to get wins when you're rolling and keep the momentum going. Hopefully we'll look at the bigger picture of how we put together a nice little run, but in the moment you're a little disappointed you couldn't find a way to finish it off.''
Eduardo Escobar hit his third homer in two games for Minnesota, which dropped one-half game behind Texas for the second wild card.
Kyle Gibson (8-9, 3.96) tries again for his elusive ninth win. Since beating Detroit on July 12, the right-hander is 0-3 with a 7.22 ERA in seven starts.
He struggled with his command at Baltimore on Saturday, walking four, but was able to limit the damage to two runs over 5 2-3 innings before leaving without a decision in a 3-2 win.
Gibson is 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA in three career starts against the Astros, allowing one run over 14 2-3 innings in the past two.