Astros secret weapon could be the key to pulling away from A's

Astros Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker
The schedule gives the Astros an edge over the A's. Composite image by Jack Brame.
3 reasons the Houston Astros newest lineup is raising eyebrows

Off a disappointing three win three loss homestand the Astros are now on the road for seven, with the Oakland Athletics closing in on them in the American League West race. While going 3-3 at home against the Twins and Rockies grades the Astros a D, Oakland has been making straight A's the past week winning seven straight games to draw within a game and a half of the Astros. Just over two weeks ago the gap was six games.

The schedule could be the Astros secret weapon

A 162 game season has plenty of ebb and flow. The A's are flowing right now, but the Astros should win the division unless the A's whip up on them in the six remaining head-to-head games they'll play in the last week and a half of the season. The Astros have the much easier remaining schedule. While the Astros have been confoundingly average against sub-.500 teams, you'd still rather have the chance to slaughter lambs than face a steady diet of really good teams. The A's play the awful Rangers three in Arlington this weekend but then have 13 in a row against winning teams: four at Chicago (White Sox), then three vs. the Giants, two vs. the Mariners, and four vs. the Yankees. Over the Astros' next 16 games only three are versus a winning team, the Mariners at Minute Maid Park next weekend.

No need to nickname Alex Bregman "Godot" just yet but boy have the Astros and Astros' fans been waiting for his return. And waiting. When Bregman finally plays in an Astro uniform again it will have been more than two months since he went down. Bregman's lingering quad issue coupled with his prior history of quad and hamstring problems seems to make it unlikely he becomes the Astros' everyday shortstop should Carlos Correa leave via free agency. Shortstop is more physically demanding than third base. Just a couple of years ago it was plausible to think Bregman would be at least as good defensively at short as Correa if not better. Not now. The Astros didn't move Cuban center field prospect Pedro Leon to playing mostly at short this year by accident. Unfortunately Leon has been out himself since late July with a broken pinky. The minor league season started late this year and hence will end later. In fact the Sugar Land Skeeters' regular season is scheduled to end the same day as the Astros'. So Leon should be back to play the final three to four weeks. If Correa is gone, Leon as the Opening Day '22 shortstop is pushing it, but top tier prospects are supposed to be pushed.

For the season the Astros have outscored their opponents in every inning one thru nine. In extra innings they've been outscored 23-14.

In one run games this season the Astros are 12-12. In two run games they are 8-10. In games decided by three or more, 48-26.

Rocket launch

Coming off what was arguably the most miserable season in franchise history the Rockets and their fans can use any sort of uplifting action. Two summer league games are barely a snack, but man did top draft pick Jalen Green whet the appetite. His athletic burst coupled with skill level are extremely promising. Green was off to a third excellent game Thursday night before leaving with a sore hamstring. The regular season is more than two months away but man that better be minor.

Texans vs. Packers

The Texans play their preseason opener Saturday night at Green Bay. The Packers have smoked at least a one more season peace pipe with reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers. The Texans, not so with Deshaun Watson. At least there are only three preseason games now, ahead of the new 17 game regular season.

The Texans credibility level more or less matches their talent level these days. New General Manager Nick Caserio gives them a chance to rebuild both, but at this point they have little. So it was an extra lame move of the Texans to attempt to cut off media access to practice two weeks earlier than NFL rules dictate. That attempt seems highly unlikely to have occurred without Caserio's stamp of approval. Who knows about Jack Easterby's involvement. Or maybe it was just a misunderstanding…

Buzzer Beaters:

1. The Texans list Deshaun Watson fourth on their quarterback depth chart this week. Then why list him at all?

2. Nothing whatsoever against Iowa, but I don't recall ever thinking "Wish I was in Iowa tonight." Until Thursday night. The "Field of Dreams" game looked amazing. The players entering the field out of the cornfield was fantastic. As was the 1989 movie. If never seen it, well worth finding.

3. Greatest Hawkeyes: Bronze-Benjamin Franklin Pierce Silver-Harry Kalas Gold-Nile Kinnick

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Justin Verlander is heading to the injured list. Composite Getty Image.

Astros ace Justin Verlander missed his start over the weekend due to neck discomfort, which had many fans concerned. The last Houston pitcher (Cristian Javier) to miss time with the same injury would end up out for the season and having to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Fortunately, it doesn't look like that will be the case for JV, and the team didn't anticipate having to put Verlander on IR. They hoped he would be able to start Thursday's game in Chicago.

But manager Joe Espada told the Astros flagship station on Tuesday that his progress “is slower than we expected.”

Fast-forward a few hours and JV is headed to the IL, with Nick Hernandez joining the club from Sugar Land.

Hopefully, this is just a short stint on the injured list for Verlander. Quite frankly, the Astros are running out of big league caliber starting pitching options.

One has to wonder, how many more injuries the team can sustain in 2024? The injury bug is biting hard, and the club is currently nine games behind Seattle in the AL West.

Up next

Framber Valdez takes the mound for Houston against the White Sox on Tuesday night.

The Athletic's Chandler Rome shares some possibilities the Astros might explore to replace Verlander in the post below.

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