The streaking Astros, who have gone 20-11 since May 11, will try to keep their good run going when they face the struggling Rays on Friday for the first time this season.
Both teams are in last place, but the Astros are surging, having won six of their last eight. They've been especially tough at home, going 10-4 since May 13. They have won four of their last seven series, with three splits.
"I think these guys have always played with tremendous energy," manager Bo Porter said. "You look at the way we've played over this stretch, where we've been winning a lot of close games, we've had some adversity and battled back from adversity and been able to overcome it. These guys are feeling off that mojo, and it's exciting to see."
The Rays, on the other hand, lost 14 of 15 before Wednesday's 6-3 win over the Cardinals. The Rays haven't won a series since they completed their sweep of the Red Sox on May 25.
On Friday Tampa Bay will send to the mound Alex Cobb, who has been struggling. In his last three starts, he has given up 16 runs in 15 1/3 innings, and opponents are batting .358 against him.
Before that he had been in a groove, setting the Rays' franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings by a starter. But during a series in Toronto, he said he started rushing his delivery, going too quickly toward the plate and getting out of whack.
"It's boring pitcher talk, but there's a couple of different things that were leading to one another -- the main factor being rushing down the hill a little bit, letting your body go down before your arm was caught up," Cobb said.
In preparation for his start against Houston, Cobb watched the Astros play a few days ago and checked out their offense. He referred to the top prospects Houston has brought up, George Springer and Jon Singleton, and the energy they bring to the lineup.
Collin McHugh starts Friday's series opener for Houston. In his last three starts, spanning 16 1/3 innings, he is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA. The Astros have a 3-0 record in those starts.
"I see some veteran guys, some guys who are willing to take some pitches," McHugh said. "They can come out and really swing the bat really well, but I think it's a lineup we match up favorably against, at least me personally. I'm looking forward to it."
Rays: Hanigan back, might get days off in Houston
Catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was activated from the disabled list after Tampa Bay's 1-0 loss on Tuesday, started Wednesday's game against St. Louis. He caught and batted ninth, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk.
Hanigan, who was recovering from a strained right hamstring, just wants to get back into a groove.
"I want to have good at-bats -- I've got to take it one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, just to try get my rhythm," Hanigan said. "I had a few -- eight, nine, 10 -- at-bats in the Minor Leagues, but hopefully, I don't feel too rusty."
After rehabbing and playing a few games in the Minors, Hanigan said he is 100 percent healthy. But manager Joe Maddon said that for now, Hanigan is still going to have the same type of timeshare with Jose Molina as he did when playing through the nagging injury, especially with a couple of day games coming up.
"I don't want to break him," Maddon said. "[Molina] has been overall doing a lot better at the plate, of course his catching's always good, so you'll see a lot of back and forth."
Astros: Altuve expected to miss series opener
Second baseman Jose Altuve, who leads the Major Leagues with 90 hits and the American League with 24 stolen bases, is likely to miss the series opener after being hit on the right hand by a pitch on Thursday.
X-rays were negative; Altuve is listed as day to day.
"The good news is the x-rays are negative, which is a sigh of relief for all of us," Porter said. "Obviously, he's sore being hit on the hand with the ball."
Altuve, who went 2-for-3 to reach 90 hits this season, was struck on a pitch thrown by the D-backs' Randall Delgado while trying to put down a bunt. Altuve hit the ground after he was hit and was in obvious pain.
"When you get hit by a 90-something-mph fastball, that hurts, especially on the hand," Altuve said. "I didn't know what happened. When I went [for an x-ray] and they said it's not anything, I was really happy."
Altuve set out to play in 162 games this season, but that goal ended when he missed Wednesday's game because of a sore left oblique. On Thursday he doubled and singled before getting hit.
• The Rays extended their franchise-record streak of innings without scoring a run to 31 before breaking through with a four-run fourth on Wednesday night.
• The Astros are 27-7 when they score at least four runs.
• Houston (31-37) didn't pick up its 30th win of the 2013 season until July 3, the 85th game.
• Astros first baseman Jon Singleton is the second player in franchise history to hit three homers in his first 10 games, following J.D. Martinez in 2011.