It's simply time for the Astros to start playing better consistently

The Astros schedule remains mostly soft. Composite image by Jack Brame.

For August 19, it was no must win but it was a big win for the Astros Thursday as they averted what would have been a straight up embarrassing four game sweep at the hands of the lowly Kansas City Royals. They weren't in need of a tourniquet but stopping some modest bleeding was a good thing. Losing three out of four is obviously not good, but salvaging the finale was a nerve soother and a standings helper. The Astros lost one game in large part because of blundering baserunning, another because of going to sleep defensively. Guess they're called the "dog days" for a reason. Stuff happens over a 162 game season. Winning Thursday in 10 innings means the Astros avoid the ignominious distinction of having been on the wrong end of sweeps vs. all three last place American League teams (Royals, Orioles, Rangers). The Royals are no good. When the Astros hit town K.C. was a last place team on a four game losing streak. It's still a last place team. Only the pathetic Rangers and Orioles score fewer runs per game in the American League, only the Orioles give up more runs per game.

The Astros are still in good position, just not nearly as good as a couple of weeks ago when they held a six game division lead. As they were dropping three of four in Kansas City, in Chicago the White Sox helped out by taking three out of four from Oakland. So, the Athletics are still two and a half games off the AL West pace. For the Astros it's simply time to start playing better consistently. In each of the season's first four months they posted a winning record. Thus far in August, 7-9. Their schedule remains mostly marshmallow soft, they need to better take advantage of it.

While the A's play a Bay Area Series against the best in the bigs San Francisco Giants, the Astros get the Seattle Mariners for the weekend at Minute Maid Park. The Mariners are on the fringe of the playoff picture, five and a half games back of the Astros, three games out of Wild Card position. That they're in the picture at all is an achievement. The team immediately ahead of the M's in the AL standings, Boston, has outscored its opponents by 52 runs. The team immediately behind the M's, Toronto, has outscored its opponents by 118 runs. Seattle has been outscored by 43 runs. The Astros have outscored their opponents by a whopping 164 runs. The Mariners last made the playoffs in 2001. That makes for the longest active drought in the "big four" sports.

What happens when Bregman returns?

There is no debate forthcoming over whether when Alex Bregman reclaims his third base post once his quad is finally deemed ok for prime time. However, Aledmys Diaz in his playing time this year has been better than what Bregman was before the quad popped more than two months ago. It no doubt will be frustrating for Diaz to again be reduced to a fill in role, but in that role he'll be a fine boost to the Astro bench which of late typically has consisted of the backup catcher, Taylor Jones, and Jacob Wilson. Kyle Tucker's return from COVID-protocol will also result in a bench boost with either Chas McCormick or Jake Meyers bumped from the starting lineup.

Chasing .300

Twice before Yuli Gurriel has come soooo close to finishing the season as a .300 hitter. In his first full season with the Astros (2017) Gurriel went two for three on the final day to finish at .299. Then in 2019 he faded the final week going just two for 19 to close at .298. Not quite three weeks ago Yuli seemed near a lock to finally notch a .300 season. August 1 in San Francisco he had a three hit game including a homer to raise his average to .324. The next day he woke up with a stiff neck that wound up placing him on the injured list. Since returning last Saturday Yuli is one for 23, dropping his average to .307. Leaving aside his struggles as a 32 year old rookie in 2016 and his awful play in the shortened 2020 season, Gurriel has been a stalwart. Ultimately he'll only deserve a .300 season if he hits .300, but it feels like he deserves it.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Thankfully this is the last weekend of 2021 without football games that matter. It's a light college schedule next Saturday, but we'll take it!

2. Who knows who the Texans' quarterback will be next year, but at least the 2022 Texans-Cowboys matchup is a regular season game. It will be in Arlington.

3. Most critical bedding components: Bronze-sheet Silver-mattress Gold-pillow

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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