By STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Justin Verlander’s next start for the Houston Astros will be in the playoffs. Major league batting leader Jose Altuve has a few more games to add to another 200-hit season.

Verlander struck out 11 to win his fifth straight start since getting traded to Houston, Altuve reached 200 hits for the fourth season in a row, and the AL West champion Astros completed a dominating three-game sweep by routing the Texas Rangers 12-2 on Wednesday.

“This is an important stretch for us. We know that we’re heading into the playoffs,” said George Springer, who hit a grand slam. “To have the whole team top to bottom swinging the bats, the (pitching) staff again was great. … It’s a good three games for us.”

Carlos Correa homered twice as Houston (98-60), trying to catch Cleveland for the best record in the American League, outscored the Rangers 37-7 in the series and outhit them 46-23.

“Pretty impressive, just the way we swung the bats,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It was an incredible series.”

Correa went deep in consecutive innings for the Astros, hitting a solo homer in the fifth and a two-run shot soon after Springer’s slam in a seven-run sixth. Correa had four hits and drove in four runs.

The Rangers (76-82), who had won the AL West the past two seasons, lost their season-high sixth straight game and ensured themselves a losing record for only the second time in nine seasons. They were eliminated from the wild-card race Tuesday night.

“The last three days have been extremely challenging,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “We haven’t swung the bats very well, we haven’t scored. We haven’t strung hits together.”

Verlander (15-8) matched his season high for strikeouts while allowing two runs without a walk in six innings. The right-hander, 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in his five starts since being traded from Detroit to Houston on Aug. 31, makes his next start in the AL Division Series next week.

“Wasn’t my best, but these guys made it pretty easy on me scoring that many runs,” Verlander said. “Just trying to keep my rhythm.”

Altuve, who is hitting .347, got his 200th hit on a single in the first off Nick Martinez (3-8), who gave up six runs and 10 hits pitching into the sixth.

The Astros second baseman is only the fourth right-handed hitter in major league history with four consecutive 200-hit seasons. The last was Michael Young, with five in a row for Texas from 2003-07. Altuve has a chance to be the first player to lead the AL or NL in hits outright four consecutive seasons.

“We’re starting to think it’s routine, and it’s not,” Hinch said. “We’ve said over and over again how special he is, how important he is on our team. It’s fun to be a part of it.”

RANGERS GOING DEEP

Willie Calhoun and Drew Robinson hit solo homers off Verlander. It was the first career homer for Calhoun, the young outfielder who was the main piece the Rangers got back when they traded Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31.

“It was pretty cool,” said Calhoun, who had two hits off Verlander. “He’s one of the better pitchers in the whole MLB.”

Calhoun got the home run ball after giving an autographed hat and bat to the fan who caught it.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: OF Josh Reddick, who didn’t play in the Rangers series because of a sore back, is likely to return to the lineup Thursday in Boston.

Rangers: A day after Texas was eliminated from playoff contention, 3B Adrian Beltre (strained left hamstring), CF Carlos Gomez (right ankle) and catcher Robinson Chirinos (hamstring) were out of the lineup. They all are likely done for the season.

UP NEXT

Astros: Brad Peacock (12-2) pitches Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series at AL East-leading Boston, a matchup of teams that could meet again in the AL Division Series next week.

Rangers: The final homestand of the season, a four-game series against last-place Oakland, starts Thursday night.
___
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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