Astros bounce back from recent troubles with 4-2 week including series win in World Series rematch

Justin Verlander turned in another spectacular start. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

After a horrible week prior, the Astros needed a big boost to turn things around and keep them on the right track. Here's how they responded to the adversity this week: 

Monday, July 30th: 67-40 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 62-43 Mariners (James Paxton)

In the first of three games against AL West foe Seattle, both the Astros and Mariners received strong performances from their starting pitching. The pitching duel resulted in a scoreless game through five innings, with Gerrit Cole actually getting through those first five without allowing a hit (thanks to a little help from the defense behind him). Cole's no-hit bid ended in the sixth, however, allowing back-to-back singles before an RBI double gave the Mariners a 2-0 advantage. Cole would still get through six and two-thirds innings, allowing just those two runs on four hits with eight strikeouts. He was followed by Ryan Pressley who pitched the final out of the seventh then the eighth inning. With no run support for Cole or Pressley who followed him, the Astros would get shut out in the loss and extend their losing streak to five and allow the Mariners to get a game closer in the standings. 
Final Score: Astros 0, Mariners 2

Tuesday, July 31st: 67-41 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 63-43 Mariners (Mike Leake)

Things continued to look grim for the Astros on Tuesday night, going down 1-0 after the Mariners got a solo homer off of Charlie Morton in the fourth inning while Houston's offense continued to be held scoreless in the series. They would finally get on the board in the top of the fifth, a game-tying RBI single from Josh Reddick to breathe life into the lineup, which scored two more runs on a two-run homer by Evan Gattis in the next inning to take their first lead at 3-1. Charlie Morton would allow the Mariners to cut the lead in half with a run in the sixth but would keep them held there to finish six innings with two runs and eight strikeouts. The bullpen had a strong performance, getting a combined inning from Joe Smith and Tony Sipp and an inning from Colin McHugh to send the 3-2 game to the ninth. In the ninth, Josh Reddick would strike again, giving Houston some insurance runs with a two-run homer to make it 5-2. Hector Rondon would take the mound for the ninth to notch another save and put a long-awaited end to the Astros' losing streak. 
Final Score: Astros 5, Mariners 2

Wednesday, August 1st: 68-41 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 63-44 Mariners (Wade LeBlanc) 

In the series rubber match on Wednesday afternoon, the Astros kept their momentum going to take a lead with a three-run second inning on a solo homer by Marwin Gonzalez and a two-run shot by Jake Marisnick. Seattle would answer right back, though, getting two runs back off of Dallas Keuchel in the bottom of the inning to make it 3-2. The tide went back Houston's way across the fourth and fifth innings as they would get another solo home run by Gonzalez, an RBI single from Josh Reddick, then three-run bomb by Max Stassi to extend their lead to 8-2. After the two early runs, Keuchel settled in and other than allowing a solo home run by Nelson Cruz to make it 8-3 in the sixth, had a good start going seven innings with three runs on eight hits. After Keuchel, Brad Peacock pitched a scoreless eighth with Will Harris throwing a scoreless ninth to seal up the series win and help keep the Astros on top of the AL West. 
Final Score: Astros 8, Mariners 3

Friday, August 3rd: 69-41 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 61-49 Dodgers (Alex Wood) 

In the first game of the World Series rematch series over the weekend, the Dodgers struck first with a solo home run off of Verlander to get an early 1-0 lead. George Springer came through in the second inning, hitting a ball to the outfield which paired with an error resulted in a two-run play that put the Astros on top 2-1. After that, it was all about Justin Verlander, who after allowing the homer to the leadoff batter absolutely dominated the rest of his start, going seven and two-thirds innings with only four hits and racking up fourteen strikeouts, matching a career high. The Dodgers received six innings from their starter, Alex Wood, then had their bullpen throw three scoreless innings, leaving it up to Hector Rondon who came in for the final out of the eighth then started the ninth with the one-run advantage. Rondon would come through with the four-out save, giving the Astros a win in a game that had a playoff feel to it in Dodgers stadium where less than a year ago they won their first World Series. 
Final Score: Astros 2, Dodgers 1

Saturday, August 4th: 70-41 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.) vs. 61-50 Dodgers (Kenta Maeda)

In another World Series flashback, Marwin Gonzalez gave Houston an early 1-0 lead with a solo homer in the top of the second on Saturday night. Lance McCullers, after throwing four shutout innings of baseball to start the game, left the game before the fifth with discomfort in his right elbow. Yuli Gurriel hit a patented laser down the third base line to drive in two runs in the top of the sixth to make it a 3-0 game, sparking a four-run inning with an RBI from Tyler White and a sac fly from Martin Maldonado to give Houston a 5-0 lead in the top of the sixth. The Astros loaded the bases in the top of the eighth with a single and two walks, setting up Maldonado for his first hit in a Houston uniform, a blooper that bounced into the stands for a two-RBI double to make it 7-0 Astros. After a hit-by-pitch, Evan Gattis hit a pinch-hit sac fly to make it 8-0 before an RBI single by George Springer made it 9-0. Josh Reddick was next up and launched a three-run homer to right field to make it 12-0 and cap off a seven-run inning. Even Jake Marisnick was able to get in on the action, hitting a two-run homer of his own in the ninth to make it 14-0. After McCullers left the game early, the bullpen combined for five innings and completed the shutout of the Dodgers with two innings from Brad Peacock (who earned the win), Collin McHugh and Tony Sipp combining for an inning, and an inning each from Joe Smith and Cionel Perez to close out the bludgeoning. 
Final Score: Astros 14, Dodgers 0

Sunday, August 5th: 71-41 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 61-51 Dodgers (Walker Buehler) 

George Springer helped the Astros pick up right where they left off the night before, launching the first pitch of the game over the center field wall for a 1-0 lead. However, the Dodgers would answer by getting their first runs in 17 innings going back to the first inning of Friday night, a two-RBI double from new Dodger Brian Dozier to give the Dodgers the lead at 2-1. To make matters worse, the Astros would lose George Springer for the rest of the afternoon after injuring his thumb sliding into second on a steal attempt to end the top of the third inning. Los Angeles would get another RBI double in the bottom of the third, extending their lead to 3-1 while they continued to rack up Cole's pitch count early in the game. Tony Kemp was able to trim the lead to 3-2 with a solo home run that sneaked over the right-field wall in the top of the fifth, but the Dodgers bullpen would keep the Astros from getting any closer. Houston's bullpen also did well, backing up Cole who was only able to complete five innings. Will Harris pitched a scoreless inning then Ryan Pressley had a quick seventh before pitching the eighth as well for two strong innings. Unfortunately, they'd be unneeded for the bottom of the ninth after Kenley Jansen nailed down the save for the Dodgers. 
Final Score: Astros 2, Dodgers 3


Houston turned the page on an awful stretch, rolling through to a 4-2 week and winning both series even with two of their best players out of the lineup. Justin Verlander had a playoff-caliber game on Friday night in what felt like a World Series type of game in Los Angeles, showing that with this pitching staff, the Astros can afford to let guys take their time to recover from injuries if it means they are a full-go and can be there come September. That being said, the injury bug is biting down on Houston hard right now, with Altuve having a possible setback to his knee injury and George Springer injuring his thumb on Sunday which could land him on the DL, along with Lance McCullers just from this week. The good news is Correa is doing well in his rehab assignment and could be back with the team shortly which will be a good boost and solidify the defense in the infield. In the division, the Astros help send the Mariners into a recent bad streak, but that has not allowed them much breathing room because now the A's are starting to nip at Houston's heels. The Astros will need to take advantage of some winnable games this week, even with their injuries, to make sure Oakland doesn't get too close. 

MVP of the Week - Josh Reddick

The Woo-birds had plenty to cheer about this week, with Josh Reddick coming through to boost the Astros in some big spots with some key players out. Reddick had two homers this week along with five other hits resulted in a solid 7-RBI week. As mentioned in my breakdown of Tuesday's game, it can easily be argued his RBI single to tie that game is one of the major shifts in momentum that got the Astros out of their rut. So for that, with the homers and RBIs, he's my MVP of the week. 

This Week

  • Mon-Tue: (71-42) Astros @ (57-56) Giants
  • Thu-Sun: (64-48) Mariners @ (71-42) Astros

The Astros will stay on the West Coast to start the week, playing the Giants in San Francisco for two games to wrap up their four-game season series and also end Houston's current road trip. The Astros won both games against the Giants at home in Houston back in May. After a day off on Wednesday, the Astros will host the Mariners for a four-game series starting on Thursday. The two games against the Giants are highly winnable, with the matchup against the Mariners being dependent on who is back in the lineup for Houston, and if the Mariners continue their recent tailspin. Houston will need a winning week to keep things rolling while guys get healthy. 

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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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