Houston improves to 3-0

Alvarez lifts off as Astros stay perfect against A's

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Firmly in control through the first two games of this series and season, thanks to their successful offense, the Astros tried to stay undefeated in the early regular season by getting another win against the A's on Saturday. They'd make their first change to their batting order, giving Alex Bregman a rest day and bringing in Aledmys Diaz in his place, and handed the ball to recently-extended Lance McCullers Jr to make his first start of the year.

Although it wouldn't be his most impressive outing, McCullers Jr. did enough to earn the win, thanks in part to a big home run by Yordan Alvarez. Houston would go on to win and stay perfect on the year, dropping the A's to 0-3 in the early season.

Final Score: Astros 9, A's 1

Astros' Record: 3-0, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Cole Irvin (0-1)

Houston strikes first but lose Brantley

Both teams were able to bring one run across in the first inning, though for Houston, it came at a cost, at least for today. Michael Brantley took a fastball to his wrist to become Houston's first baserunner, later scoring on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to put the Astros in front 1-0.

Michael Brantley would end up exiting the game with discomfort as a result, though the team quickly reported initial X-rays were negative, with Chas McCormick coming in to take his place. Houston plated another in the top of the second, loading the bases to set up a one-out RBI-single for Jose Altuve before they would strand the bases loaded.

An up and down day for McCullers Jr.

Lance McCullers Jr. labored to find the strike zone in the bottom of the first, issuing back-to-back walks to start his day. He would allow a one-out RBI-single to tie the game but rebounded with back-to-back strikeouts to get to the dugout, but not before tossing 33 pitches.

He rebounded nicely in the second, retiring Oakland in order on 12 pitches, but then lost control again in the third, using up another 32 to get through it and maintain the one-run lead. He turned that back around again with a quick fourth and would end up finishing five one-run innings, leaving in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7K, 95 P.

Alvarez makes noise as Houston secures series win

Houston threatened again in the top of the fifth, this time avoiding multiple stranded runners as Yordan Alvarez would launch a three-run opposite-field home run to extend the lead to 5-1. Ryne Stanek took over in the bottom of the sixth for McCullers, striking out the side then tossing a quick seventh to maintain the four-run advantage.

Enoli Paredes was Houston's next reliever in the bottom of the eighth, but after loading the bases with one out on a single and two walks, Brooks Raley quickly replaced him. Raley would get out of the jam with back-to-back outs to strand all three runners and send the game to the final inning.

In the top of the ninth, after the first two batters reached, Chas McCormick would get his first major-league hit, an RBI-double off the left-field wall to bring in an insurance run, making it 6-1. Houston went on to score three more before it was said and done, and Raley would remain on the mound to close out the win. The victory locked up the series for Houston, giving them the opportunity to complete a four-game sweep to start the season.

Up Next: The fourth and final game of this series in Oakland will be at 3:07 PM Central on Sunday. Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73 ERA in 2020) will get the start for Houston, while Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50 ERA) will make his 2021 debut for Oakland.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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