ASTROS REPORT

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

Summary

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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RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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