Here are the critical factors that helped Houston climb to top of AL West

The Astros are on a roll. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros have won seven consecutive games, and are coming off a 6-0 homestead against the Texas Rangers and the Chicago White Sox.

Houston now sits atop the American League West over the Oakland A's and are currently in first place in the American League.

Only the San Francisco Giants and Los Angles Dodgers have a better record than the Astros in all of Major League Baseball.

Last week saw a flair for the dramatic on multiple occasions, and showcased why the Astros are one of the best offensive teams in baseball.

Jose Altuve had himself a week to say the least. It started Tuesday when the former MVP hit a walk-off grand slam to give Houston a 6-3 victory over the Texas Rangers. He followed that up with a leadoff homer to start the game Wednesday, becoming the first player in major league history to hit a walk-off grand slam then a leadoff home run in consecutive at-bats. Altuve is steadily increasing his batting average week by week and making a case he belongs in this year's All-Star Game in July.

Speaking of All-Star candidates, Yordan Alvarez is making a case that he is one of the best designated hitters in the league.

The Cuban slugger is riding a 7-game hitting streak, and on Friday he hit a game-ending double in the 9th to give the Astros a 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Carlos Correa continues to rake and hit bombs during the Astros winning streak. The All-Star caliber shortstop increased his batting average from .288 to .296 this week and hit three homers to complete his week.

The injury bug bit the Astros last week, with Alex Bregman going on the injured list with a strained left quad and Kyle Tucker placed on the COVID-19 health and safety protocols list. Players who have stepped up in their absences are Chas McCormick, Robel Garcia, and Abraham Toro. All three of these Astros have been filling in nicely. Toro had his first 4-hit game of his big league career Sunday against the White Sox and looks to be the everyday 3rd baseman until Bregman returns from the injured list. There is no timetable for Bregman's return, so Toro could be playing third base for a while.

Houston's starting pitching has been lights out during this winning streak. In their last four games, the Astros' pitchers gave gone at least 6 innings. There is a dilemma as to who would be the 5th starter in this rotation, Lance McCullers or Jake Odorizzi. The Astros will probably go with a 6-man rotation for the time being, but one can never have too many starting pitchers.

Up Next: The Astros start a 7-game road trip for three games in Baltimore against the Orioles and four games against the Detroit Tigers.

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We'll see if Watson is in pads on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Houston Texans.

The Houston Texans had their last practice before pads come on for the first time on Tuesday. There was plenty to see on Monday.

1. Deshaun Watson had his usual extremely light level of work. He did very little throwing to teammates, though he did throw to the tight ends in 1-on-1 drills.

2. Texans head coach David Culley said "nothing has changed" when asked if Deshaun Watson will be in pads Tuesday. Culley has maintained that answer for a couple of sessions now.

3. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was back after missing Saturday with an excused personal day. Taylor has been the best quarterback in camp by a wide margin. Taylor makes better decisions with the football than other quarterbacks, but he does struggle on deeper passes. Taylor missed wildly on one deep ball and was a little wobbly on another.

4. Nobody in camp can cover wide receiver Brandin Cooks. This could be the easiest training camp of his life. He easily gets open in 1-on-1 situations.

5. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins continues to flash his abilities in camp. Collins easily shook loose from defensive back John Reid and took the route vertical for an easy score. Collins later had a tough catch in traffic.

6. It's only been a few days, but the competition for inside wide receiver reps is tough. Former Bears wideout Anthony Miller has looked quick and nothing like the "draft bust" the Bears fans watched. Keke Coutee has rarely lost a rep, but Desmond King did win a few times over Coutee in the opening days of camp. Former Bengals wideout Alex Erickson finds himself constantly open. The cuts at wide receiver are already shaking out to be difficult.

7. Davis Mills bounced back in a sense that he couldn't be worse than he was on Saturday. The performance from Mills on Saturday was abysmal, but head coach David Culley said he liked how Mills responded today. With Tyrod Taylor back, there were fewer reps for Mills, but he had some impressive throws to go along with an off-target throw or two. Mills was far better than Jeff Driskel on Monday. Driskel tossed two interceptions right to defenders, including one that would've gone the wrong way for a score.

8. This linebacker group is interesting. With a new defensive scheme under Lovie Smith, the type of linebacker is very different from previous years. There was a clear emphasis on cover ability as these linebackers were added to the team.

9. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Kevin Pierre-Louis have both had some significant wins for the linebackers in coverage.

10. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan looks the part physically, but he's had a rough few days, including a drop on Monday.

11. With the pads coming on Tuesday, it will be fun to watch the rebuilt defensive line clash with the many combinations of the offensive line. There will be no J.J. Watt who historically stirred up the team on day one of pads. Laremy Tunsil's cool confidence about the offensive line over the weekend leads me to believe they are a confident group, while there are spots to be won on the defensive side of the line.

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