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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With so much on the line for the Astros this past weekend, they couldn't possibly get swept by the Royals, could they?

That's exactly what they did thanks to some poor pitching, and an inability to get timely hits with runners in scoring position.

The Astros are currently clinging to the last wild card position as they head to Seattle to face the Mariners, with Justin Verlander on the mound for the 'Stros.

Starting pitching has been the biggest issue for the club as of late, with Hunter Brown looking unusable moving forward. Brown has given up, wait for this, 6 earned runs or more in 3 of his last 4 starts. His ERA for the season is now over 5.

So how will the rotation look over the final stretch of games? We know for the Mariners series the team is rolling out Verlander, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez.

The club is off on Thursday, and they head to Arizona for a 3-game series with the Diamondbacks that starts Friday. We predict JP France will pitch Friday, with Justin Verlander likely taking the ball Saturday.

Then all bets are off for Sunday. It could be Framber on 3-days rest, or all hands on deck for a bullpen game.

Of course, with the division race being so close, things could change on a daily basis. There's even a scenario where Arizona secures their wild card, and the final two games of the season don't matter for them.

The other big factor will be the outcome of the 4-game Rangers-Mariners series that finishes off the season.

Be sure to watch the video above as we examine all the scenarios leading up to the end of the regular season for Houston, and much more!

Watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every Thursday on SportsMap Houston's YouTube channel.

And listen to ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 FM for Houston's best sports talk.

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