MAKING A DEAL

Astros acquire catcher Martin Maldonado from Angels

Martin Maldonado (center) will be joining the Astros after facing them his entire career. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Astros have made a trade, however, it's not for a reliever. Instead, Houston has sent a pitching prospect to the Angels to get a catcher. 

On Thursday the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels struck a deal which sent pitching prospect Patrick Sandoval and cash to Los Angeles with catcher Martin Maldonado going to Houston. 

Maldonado is a veteran in the league who won a Gold Glove in the 2017 season with the Angels. He will be a rental for the Astros, becoming a free agent after the 2018 season. Maldonado has started 77 games for the Angels this year, during which he has continued to provide strength behind the plate like he did in his award-winning year last season. 

Martin gives the Astros some strength and experience behind the plate that they have needed since Brian McCann went down with his knee injury. With McCann's return still uncertain, it's a good move for the Astros to add some depth at the position, allowing them to switch out Max Stassi and Maldonado as needed instead of relying on Tim Federowicz. 

Looking at Maldonado's performance this year; he's currently leading the AL in putouts like he did last season, second in the AL in Caught Stealing percentage at 44.4%, and has the lowest passed balls at just 10. His best value is behind the plate, not necessarily as a hitter; he's hitting .223 on the season with just five home runs and 32 RBIs. 

The prospect the Astros gave up, Patrick Sandoval, has been in Houston's system since being drafted in the eleventh round of the 2015 draft. Sandoval has had a good year in 2018 in the minors, currently sitting with a 9-1 record and 2.56 ERA in 19 games, 13 of which were starts. He's pitched 88 innings over those 19 games, during which he's given up 25 earned runs while striking out 97 and holding opponents to a .213 average. 

Although not the highest prospect in the Astros' system, time will tell if it was worth giving up Sandoval for a few months of Maldonado's strength behind the plate. It's clear the Astros front office is determined to take advantage of their championship window and adding Maldonado could be a piece they need this offseason. 

Stats acquired from baseball-reference.com and milb.com

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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