CHICAGO (AP) Lance McCullers Jr. and the Houston Astros have played their best against baseball's best teams this year.
Just ask the Chicago White Sox.
McCullers pitched seven crisp innings, and the Astros beat the White Sox 7-1 on Friday night in the opener of a weekend series between AL division leaders.
Michael Brantley homered and Myles Straw drove in three runs as the Astros improved to a big league-best 43-22 against teams with a .500 or better record - including a 5-0 mark against the White Sox. Yuli Gurriel added three hits and two RBIs.
''It seems like they rise to the occasion,'' Houston manager Dusty Baker said. ''They know that we're facing good teams, and they love the competition, especially the good pitchers.''
McCullers (7-2) surrendered hits on each of his first two pitches: a leadoff triple for Tim Anderson that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and an RBI double for Yoan Moncada. But that was it for Chicago against the right-hander, who struck out 10 and walked two.
''He was nasty tonight,'' Baker said.
McCullers said he thinks he found something with his breaking ball during the All-Star break. He also showcased his confidence in his slider, especially against lefty batters.
''It's just become something for me. I honestly feel like I could throw it at will for strikes,'' he said.
The White Sox won five in a row before the All-Star break, closing out a 6-3 road trip. But they were outplayed again by the Astros, who rolled to a four-game sweep in their first meeting of the season last month in Houston.
While the Astros have played well against baseball's best teams, the White Sox dropped to 16-25 against opponents that currently have a .500 or better record.
''I think they outpitched us, but I think we pitched better than seven runs,'' manager Tony La Russa said. ''You come out tomorrow and compete again.''
Dylan Cease (7-5) struck out 10 in 5 2/3 innings for Chicago. The right-hander permitted three runs and six hits in his first loss in nine home starts this season.
''It was solid. I kept us in it,'' Cease said. ''I don't want to say I handed them two runs, but I felt like I pretty much gave them the first two runs.''
Cease caught a bad break when Anderson looked to second on Jose Altuve's two-out grounder to shortstop with a runner on first in the third. Second baseman Leury Garcia wasn't on the bag and Altuve was credited with an infield single.
After Brantley was hit by a pitch, Gurriel lined a two-run double into right field.
Brantley added a two-out solo drive in the fifth, and the Astros broke it open with four more two-out runs in the seventh. Straw had the big blow, a three-run double to right that made it 7-1.
''We had some guys have big nights,'' Baker said.
The White Sox reinstated reliever Aaron Bummer from the 10-day injured list and recalled right-hander Reynaldo Lopez from Triple-A Charlotte. They also optioned relievers Matt Foster and Jace Fry to their top farm club.
Bummer, who had been sidelined by a strained right hamstring, recorded two outs in the seventh and was charged with four runs. Lopez worked two scoreless innings.
Astros: All-Star SS Carlos Correa was activated from the injured list. Correa was placed on the IL last week due to health and safety protocols. ... RHP Austin Pruitt was activated from the 60-day IL. Pruitt was acquired in a January 2020 trade with Tampa Bay, but he missed last season with an elbow injury. ... Baker said 3B Alex Bregman (strained left quadriceps) is progressing and could start a minor league rehabilitation stint soon. ... RHP Josh James (hip surgery) got two outs in a rehab appearance for Triple-A Sugar Land.
White Sox: INF/OF Jake Lamb (strained right quadriceps) was sent to Triple-A Charlotte to begin a rehab assignment.
Right-handers Jake Odorizzi (3-4, 3.61 ERA) and Lucas Giolito (7-6, 4.15) pitch on Saturday night. Odorizzi is 2-1 with a 1.04 ERA over his last five appearances for Houston. Giolito struck out nine in 5 1/3 innings in Chicago's 8-3 win at Baltimore last Saturday.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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