THE BIG MAN'S HOT START ALLOWS GM TO BE PICKY AND FLEXIBLE

Yordan Alvarez gives Luhnow and Astros options

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Yordan Alvarez has been everything and more for the Houston Astros in his first experience in the big leagues. His first hit was a home run, his plate discipline and hitting eye have been sharp and he has displayed power to all fields in putting up outstanding numbers in his first 6 games. Hitting .381 with 4 home runs and 8 RBI in his first 6 Major League games has not only put him in rare air and elite company, but it has also put GM Jeff Luhnow in the power position of being able to be picky as he looks for ways he can improve this team through trades.

I fully expect that Alvarez will come back down to earth at some point, but if he can maintain his eye and ability to make solid contact he should get better and better as he sees the game slow down and he gets accustomed to major league pitching and life in the big leagues.

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Luhnow and the Astros were one of a few teams talking to the Seattle Mariners about Edwin Encarnacion, the league leader in home runs that was wasting away on a team going nowhere in the American League West. The Yankees ended up swinging the deal to get the power hitting slugger, as the Astros were said to not be willing to take on as much of his salary as the hyper-wealthy Bronx Bombers.

That's a sure sign that Luhnow isn't in panic mode and will not overreact or make rash decisions when considering ways to improve this team. Before Alvarez was called up and the team was in the midst of an injury-plagued stretch of games, he may have had a different mindset. Now that the big man is up and raking, the GM can afford to be selective and patient as he navigates and negotiates the trade market.

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Instead of focusing on a bat for the middle of the lineup and a potential power hitter like Encarnacion, Alvarez allows Luhnow the luxury of focussing on available starting pitchers that could strengthen his rotation. Prospects that were being considered as potential trade chips for a bat can now be used to obtain a valuable arm. Names like Marcus Stroman, Madison Bumgarner, Cory Kluber, and Andrew Cashner can be the main focus instead of trying to spread out his prospects to be considered in multiple deals to attempt to get a quality hitter as well as an experienced starting pitcher.

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Obviously, the situation remains fluid as Alvarez now goes on his first road trip with the big club. He is considered a defensive liability at most positions and with the National League opponents taking away the DH, it will be interesting to see where he plays and how games away from Minute Maid Park affect his at-bats.

Assuming everyone currently out of action with injuries return to the lineup healthy at some point soon, Luhnow and his staff will be able to further evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the roster and what position possesses the most pressing need for improvement. It could be an arms race and then again, it could result in a power struggle. One thing is for sure, the Astros new young slugger, Yordan Alvarez, has put them in a position of strength in more ways than one.

Astros get back on track with lopsided win

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 2 hits from the 11-2 win

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With two of their worst pitching performances behind them from Monday and Tuesday nights, the Astros had Gerrit Cole on the mound on Wednesday to try and right the ship. Here is a recap of the third of four games in this series:

Final Score: Astros 11, Angels 2.

Record: 60-37, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Gerrit Cole (10-5, 3.12 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Felix Pena (7-3, 4.92 ERA).

1) Overpowering offense makes it easy for Houston's pitchers

Houston's openers and primary pitchers put up disappointing numbers the offense could not overcome the previous two nights. Houston's bats flipped the script on that, taking control of the game on Tuesday night to make it less stressful for Gerrit Cole and the bullpen.

They started with a three-run first inning, getting a one-out single by Jose Altuve who would score on an RBI-double by Alex Bregman before a two-run homer by Michael Brantley in the next at-bat. They continued scoring in the next two innings, getting a run in each. Jose Altuve notched an RBI-double in the second, then Yuli Gurriel led the third inning off with a double before scoring on a wild pitch later in the inning.

They nearly doubled that 6-0 lead in the top of the fifth, getting four straight two-out hits. It started with a single by Robinson Chirinos to move Michael Brantley, who was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning, over to second. Tyler White was next with another RBI in this series, getting a single to score Brantley. Jake Marisnick was next, and he came through with an RBI-double before George Springer would clear the bases with a three-run dinger to make it an 11-0 game.

2) Cole gives fans a breath of fresh air

As mentioned, Astros fans were desperate for an efficient pitching performance after the woes of the last two nights. Gerrit Cole delivered, rebounding from his previous start, which was a drop-off from his usual numbers and having a more typical night.

Cole allowed only a handful of hits and a walk over the first four innings, keeping the Angels off the board until the fifth. They would tag him with his near-daily home run in that inning, a solo shot to make it an 11-1 game, the only run he would allow on the night.

Even with his pitch count in the 90s after six innings, the Astros trusted him to come back out and eat another inning. He did so, getting a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh on three strikeouts, bringing his total on the night to eleven. Cole's final line: 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 1 HR.

Cole's excellent performance meant only two innings of relief needed from Houston' bullpen. Joe Smith provided a scoreless eighth, then Ryan Pressly wrapped things up despite allowing a run in the bottom of the ninth to make it 11-2.

Up Next: The Astros and Angels will conclude this series tomorrow with the finale of the four-game set starting an hour earlier at 8:07 PM. The expected pitching matchup is Wade Miley (7-4, 3.32 ERA) for Houston going up against Matt Harvey (3-4, 6.88 ERA) for Los Angeles.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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