Altuve leads the Astros past Chris Sale and the Red Sox with three home runs. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Jose Altuve was a monster in Game 1 on Thursday, and the Astros are off to a fast start in the American League Divisional Series because of it.
Altuve hit three home runs and the Astros rocked Red Sox ace Chris Sale in an 8-2 win at Minute Maid Park, taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
Justin Verlander pitched six innings and got the victory.
The Astros took control early. The started with a 95 mph fastball from Verlander to Xander Bogaerts for a called strike. Bogaerts would pop out and the Red Sox would go down 1-2-3 in the first.
In the bottom of the first, Alex Bregman took Sale deep to give the Astros a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Altuve was up next and stepped into the box with chants of "MVP!" echoing through Minute Maid Park and made it back-to-back homers, extending the lead to 2-0.
Verlander issued two one-out walks in the top of the second which allowed Boston to get one run back on a RBI single from Sandy Leon, but Dustin Pedroia was thrown out reaching for third to end the inning. The score would stay 2-1 until the top of the fourth when the Red Sox would get runners on the corners with no outs. Rafael Devers hit a sac fly to tie the game at 2 before Verlander got out of the inning, however, had already raised his pitch count to 79.
In typical Marwin Gonzalez fashion, he came to the plate in a tie game with two-outs and two on and came through. He drilled a ball opposite field off the right-center wall to score two runs, putting the Astros up 4-2. Sale, like Verlander, would also fall victim of a high pitch count through four innings, ending the fourth at 75 pitches.
The Astros continued to get the better of Sale as Altuve hit his second home run of the game, extending the Astros' lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth. Gattis hit his second double of the game followed by a Reddick walk with no outs in the bottom of the sixth to end Sale's day. Joe Kelly came in for the Red Sox and gave up a single to load the bases before giving up a two-RBI single to Brian McCann to make it 7-2 Astros and give Sale seven earned runs on the day.
Meanwhile, Verlander cruised through the fifth and sixth innings on eight and twelve pitches respectively before Hinch went to the bullpen with the large lead in the seventh. The Astros received a perfect top half of the seventh from Devenski including two strikeouts before Altuve gave the Astros another insurance run with his third solo home run of the game to make it 8-2 in the bottom half of the inning.
Boston would be unable to trim the lead down despite getting a couple of two-out hits off of Harris in the eighth before Liriano was brought in to get the last out of the inning. Joe Musgrove came in for the ninth in a non-save situation and continued to perform well as a reliever, locking up the 8-2 win.
In the end, the Astros played a good defensive game behind good pitching, made use of the long ball including three by the potential MVP, and added additional runs off timely hitting to go up 1-0 on Boston in the series.
The Astros play the Red Sox again Friday at 1:05 p.m. at Minute Maid Park. Dallas Keuchel takes the mound for Houston against Boston's Drew Pomeranz.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.