KEEP THE FAITH

All the reasons you should still feel great about the Astros' chances

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I can read a box score. Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, heck, even utility man Myles Straw, are all hitting well below their career batting averages. Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, hasn't made an appearance yet. Justin Verlander, last year's Cy Young winner, and Roberto Osuna, the American League's saves leader, are on the injured list, perhaps for the season. One starter, Lance McCullers, has an ERA over 9, while another starter, Josh James, already has been banished to the bullpen. The bullpen, with Osuna gone, is a giant, inexperienced question mark. And don't forget, last year's best pitcher in baseball, Gerrit Cole, left the Astros to sign with the Yankees.

Take Thursday night (please). Ryan Pressly was brought into the game in the ninth to protect a 1-run Astros lead. He closed it, all right. Pressley gave up a walk, single, single and double - game over, Astros lose. Pressley began the night with a 13.50 ERA, and left with a 40.50 ERA. I didn't know ERA could go that high.

Let's review: so far in 2020, more than half of the Astros top hitters are in a slump. The team lost, not its two best pitchers, but both of baseball's two best pitchers. Their starting rotation has been decimated. Their top reliever may be done. Their slugging DH has yet to swing the bat. New manager, new general manager. As the Beatles once sang, it can't get no worse. I'm not happy with the grammar.

Break it to me gently. Surely they're in last place, but how many games out of first? Don't tell me they've already been eliminated from the playoffs.

Wait, are you saying the Astros are 6-6 for the season, only a couple of games behind Oakland for first place in the American League West? And they have three games coming up against the A's, and if the Astros sweep, they'll be in first?

The first 20 percent of the season is gone in a blink. Things couldn't have gone more horrendously for the Astros, and they're still playing .500 ball. If the playoffs started today, the Astros, even with their cursed season, would be in the mix. Surely, Altuve, Bregman and Springer's bats will come alive. The Astros will find more pitching arms. The bullpen, riddled with injuries and rookies, will gain experience and confidence..

And that's why I'm sticking with my prediction that the Astros will win the American League West (for the fourth time in a row), repeat as American League champions, and beat the Dodgers for the World Series title. I don't know which would please me more, the Astros winning, or the Dodgers losing. Take that, pouty face Joe Kelly.

You know that Springer will start bashing home runs, assuming his wrist is okay. Bregman will be Bregman. Reddick will be fine. Michael Brantley will bat .300. If Carlos Correa stays hot and off the massage table, the Astros will be, maybe not a murderer's row, but a reduced charge of manslaughter. Despite the slumps, injuries and absences, the Astros lineup is leading the league in runs scored. When Alvarez returns, look out.

Remember, with this improbable, 60-game schedule, the Astros don't have to finish first, although they will, or even second in the AL West. This season is just about making the playoffs. Sixteen teams, more than half of all the teams, will qualify for the post-season tournament. That's crazy hockey talk.

If you're a good team, which the Astros certainly are, the real goal of the 2020 season is to get to October with your position players healthy and your pitching rotation rested for Game 1 of whatever MLB is calling the first round of playoffs.

Now all we need is general manager James Click to find us some starting pitchers and a reliever or two. And Alvarez to show up. And Altuve and Bregman and Springer to start raking. And just maybe, "do you believe in miracles" Verlander to come back. The Astros aren't giving up, and neither should we.

My biggest worry about the Astros 2020 season? How do you hold a World Series parade in downtown Houston with social distancing?

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Houston stays hot at the plate

Astros overpower White Sox in series opener

Abraham Toro made a loud return to the Astros' lineup on Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a two-game sweep of the struggling Rangers behind them, the Astros welcomed in a much fiercer opponent in the Chicago White Sox, owners of the best record in the AL, for an exciting four-game set. It was all Astros in this one, as their offense would once again propel them to a lopsided win.

Final Score: Astros 10, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 40-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (5-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dylan Cease (5-3)

Houston builds a big lead

Houston wasted no time in the bottom of the first, getting two on base on a single and an error to set up a three-run home run for Michael Brantley, putting them ahead 3-0 before Chicago and Dylan Cease could record an out. They extended the lead in the bottom of the fourth, putting two on base on a walk and hit batter before an RBI ground-rule double by Carlos Correa brought in one. That left runners on second and third, and Abraham Toro took advantage by scoring both on a two-RBI single, then with one out, Jose Altuve hit a sac fly to make it a 7-0 lead.

Urquidy brings the good stuff

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was cruising through Chicago's lineup. He allowed just one hit through the first five scoreless innings but would let the White sox get on the board in the top of the sixth after a leadoff double and two-out RBI single. They added one more on another single, making it 7-2 before Urquidy could get out of the inning.

Jose Altuve got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, hitting his fourth home run in three games to make it a six-run game at 8-2. Urquidy returned to the mound in the top of the seventh, getting a quick 1-2-3 frame to end his successful night. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 93 P.

Astros take the opener

In the bottom of the seventh, Houston pushed the lead to eight runs with a leadoff single, setting up a two-out two-run homer by Toro, bringing him to four RBI on the night. With Urquidy's night over, Brandon Bielak came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen, sitting down Chicago in order. Ralph Garza Jr. came in to get an inning of work to finish off the game with Houston's large lead. He made it a quick one, with Chicago going down in order one more time as the Astros took the opener and notched their fourth-straight win.

Up Next: Game two of this entertaining series will be another 7:10 PM Central Start on Friday. Carlos Rodon (6-2, 1.89 ERA) will try to help Chicago even the series, while Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.98 ERA) will try to put Houston up 2-0.

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