Astros host White Sox, continue pursuit of AL's best record

HOUSTON -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch was quick to joke that his team appreciated the scheduled off day it enjoyed Monday, one that came on the heels of Houston claiming the American League West title on Sunday, allowing the revelry to linger a bit longer.

On Tuesday, it was back to business for the Astros, with Hinch making clear his intention to pursue the best record in the AL (and home-field advantage in the postseason) by penciling in his primary lineup for the opener of a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox.

Houston won 3-1 on Tuesday, and the clubs meet again Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.

Some teams might ease up while heading into the postseason with their spot guaranteed. The Astros (92-58) have opted to dash full speed through the finish line of the 162-game regular season. They are 1 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians for the AL's top record.

"We're built on routine; we play every day," Hinch said. "And so, when you start to disrupt that artificially, you get lax mentally. There are so many ways we can still get better over the next couple of weeks. It's hard to just turn the switch when October starts.

"There are habit-forming things we're trying to do. These guys are built to play every day; they train to play every day. Mentally there's no reason for us to try to coast through these games and not try to win."

Right-hander Brad Peacock (11-2, 2.98 ERA) takes the ball for the Astros in the middle game of the series. Peacock has faced the White Sox twice previously in his career, allowing three runs on 12 hits and five walks with 10 strikeouts over 13 innings. In a no-decision on Aug. 10, he allowed one run on seven hits with five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

Right-hander James Shields (4-6, 5.43 ERA) pitches for the White Sox (60-90) on Wednesday. It will mark his sixth career start against Houston. Shields is 2-1 with a 1.70 ERA vs. the Astros, including a complete game on June 24, 2011, while with the Tampa Bay Rays when he allowed one run on three hits and one walk with nine strikeouts.

While the Astros spent Monday recuperating from their celebration, White Sox manager Rick Renteria rested on his day off. He returned Tuesday ready for the final 13 games invigorated by the fact that his rebuilding squad has tackled the chore of competition with enthusiasm.

Renteria opened the series with five rookies in his starting offense, another, Lucas Giolito, on the mound, and two more on the bench.

Rookie right-hander Carson Fulmer will start the series finale Thursday. This is the course the White Sox have taken, and Renteria is pleased to steer this ship.

"After every game, I think they gain something they're going to be able to use moving forward," Renteria said. "At the end of the day, it's just experience, it's just time. They have certain skill sets that they're trying to develop and use, and we're scratching at the surface of what's going to be moving forward.

"Like many organizations have done, we're trying to do the same thing."
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