BOSTON -- The offensively surging Astros rolled into Fenway Park and knocked around a potential American League Division Series opponent, riding an early burst of offense en route to a 12-2 thumping over the Red Sox in Thursday's opener of a four-game series.
"Everything is going [great] right now," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, whose team has won 12 of its last 14 games.
But even in defeat, there was a positive development for the Red Sox. The Yankees suffered a 9-6 loss to the Rays, putting Boston's magic number at one for winning the AL East with three games left.
The Yankees beat the Blue Jays on Friday afternoon, so the Red Sox need to beat the Astros on Friday night to lock up the division before the regular season's final weekend. Boston has clinched at least a tie for the division.
"The Yankees did us a favor today," said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts after Thursday's game. "So we're kind of in a good situation right now. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow, coming to the field ready and prepared. Looking forward to a win."
With the stress-free victory, the 99-60 Astros remained in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the AL. Cleveland's record is one game better, but the Indians hold the tiebreaker, so the Astros would have to pass them in order to take the top seed. Houston also still has a chance at MLB's best record and guaranteed home-field advantage in the World Series. If the Astros win out (and pass the Indians), and if the Dodgers lose their final three games, Houston and L.A. would finish with the same record. But the Astros hold the tiebreaker over the Dodgers by virtue of the better intradivision record.
The last few days have resembled one lengthy batting-practice session for the Astros, as they've scored 11 runs or more in four consecutive games to extend a club record. Their 49 runs scored in a four-game span is also a club record. They can reach 100 wins for only the second time in team history with a victory in one of the final three games.
"It's a great time to be putting up the kind of at-bats we are," Hinch said. "We're pitching well, we're playing good defense. We just continue to play hard, play well. I've said it before -- we have a good team, especially when we get locked in like this, where we're not giving away any at-bats. Our offense can do some things."
By the top of the fourth, Houston had a 9-2 lead.
"Everybody's putting good swings on balls, swinging at good pitches to hit, not chasing balls that are marginally out of the zone," said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who went 1-for-5 with a homer. "I think we're just putting together good at-bats right now, and it couldn't be at a more perfect time."
Carlos Correa stayed on his recent tear, going 4-for-4 with a homer, three runs scored and three RBIs. Hit machine Jose Altuve went 3-for-4 and scored twice.
Brad Peacock went five innings and allowed two runs to improve to 13-2 -- 8-0 on the road -- and has likely cemented a spot in the Astros' rotation for the ALDS presented by Doosan. Eduardo Rodriguez followed one of his best starts of the season with perhaps his worst, as he was tagged for six hits and five runs over just 1 2/3 innings.
"They were really aggressive and I was missing with pitches over the plate," said Rodriguez.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Marwin clears bases: While the first inning was rocky throughout for Rodriguez, he was just one out away from getting out of it with no runs across. But Marwin Gonzalez came through for the Astros, unloading for a perfectly placed double to the gap in right-center that cleared the bases to put the Red Sox in a 3-0 hole before they even took a swing.
"It was one of the biggest at-bats and I just missed the pitch," said Rodriguez. "It was supposed to be a fastball up and away and I missed it middle away."
Bregman's blast: Again, Rodriguez was close to pitching a scoreless frame in the second. And again, the Astros wouldn't allow it to happen. With two outs, George Springer singled and Bregman followed by smashing a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 game. The next two batters reached base, and Rodriguez was out of the game following what was easily his shortest start of the season.
"I had to make up for the first-inning [fielding error]," Bregman said. "It was a good team win and it was fun to play here. Great fans showed up and it was rocking early, and I'm proud of our team."
"It's hard to describe the year and the importance he's had. He's one of our MVPs of our team because of how he stepped into the opportunity and not only just filled in, but dominated. He's very much a big reason we are where we're at." -- Hinch, on Peacock
"The sooner the better, but still, we're not taking anything for granted. We're looking forward to finishing a main goal that we set out for ourselves in Spring Training." -- Red Sox manager John Farrell, on the chance to clinch the team's second straight AL East title on Friday
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Astros' 51 road wins this season matches their entire wins total from 2013.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Houston goes for 100 wins behind right-hander Charlie Morton in Friday's 6:10 p.m. CT game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Morton, who has set a career high for wins (13), is 6-3 with a 3.00 ERA in his last 11 starts, with 76 strikeouts over 66 innings.
Red Sox: Right-hander Doug Fister gets the nod against the team he pitched for last season at 7:10 p.m. ET. Fister had been slumping of late, but he had a decent start last time out, allowing three runs over 5 1/3 innings and striking out nine. It is an important start for Fister, as Farrell continues to contemplate a rotation for a potential ALDS.