THE ASTROS REPORT

Astros clinch division, obtain franchise's best record in final week of regular season

A.J. Hinch deserves some credit. Jason Behnken / Getty Images

The Astros looked to wrap the regular season up by clinching the division then taking the last few days to rest key players and fine-tune things for the playoffs. Here's how the last week went:

Monday, Sept. 24: 98-57 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 71-85 Blue Jays (Marco Estrada)

Yuli Gurriel kept his recent hot streak alive right off the bat this week with an RBI single to put the Astros up 1-0 in the top of the first inning in the series opener in Toronto on Monday. The offense added two more runs the very next inning with Brian McCann and Josh Reddick hitting back-to-back home runs, then Alex Bregman made it three consecutive scoring innings with an RBI double in the third to extend the lead out to 4-0. Dallas Keuchel did well during those first three innings, keeping the Blue Jays scoreless and with just two hits. That changed in the bottom of the fourth, though, after a one-out double turned in to a two-run home run for Toronto to cut the lead in half, 4-2. Keuchel would get into more trouble in the fifth, loading the bases with no outs after a single, error, and walk. He was able to limit the damage, though, allowing just one run before getting out of the jam, making it a 4-3 game. That score held over the next three innings after Joe Smith and Will Harris combined for the sixth, Sipp and Peacock combining for the seventh, then Ryan Pressly tossing a scoreless eighth. That sent things to the ninth, where Jose Altuve was able to give Houston an extra insurance run with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. Roberto Osuna made his first appearance back in Toronto since being moved to the Astros when he came in for the bottom of the ninth and was able to wrap up the 5-3 win for another save on his season and put the Astros' magic number at 2.
Final Score: Astros 5, Blue Jays 3

Tuesday, Sept. 25: 99-57 Astros (Josh James) vs. 71-86 Blue Jays (Sam Gaviglio) 

Flamethrower Josh James had the start for Houston on Tuesday, and he had a lead to work with before he even took the mound. George Springer led off the game with a single, then came around to score on a two-run homer by Alex Bregman to put Houston ahead 2-0. James had another good start, completing five strong innings during which he allowed just one run on a solo home run in the third inning but otherwise held the Blue Jays in check with just four hits in his five innings. Houston doubled their score in the top of the sixth, getting an RBI single from Tyler White then a sac fly from Evan Gattis to extend the lead to 4-1. It was up to the bullpen to hold that lead, which they did with Tony Sipp in the sixth, Collin McHugh and Ryan Pressly combining for the seventh, then Hector Ronon in the eighth, all scoreless. That set up Roberto Osuna for another save against his old team, which he completed to give the Astros their 100th win to make it consecutive seasons with triple-digit wins. The win also put Houston's magic number at 1 to win the division. 
Final Score: Astros 4, Blue Jays 1

Wednesday, Sept. 26: 100-57 Astros (Chris Devenski) vs. 71-87 Blue Jays (Sean Reid-Foley)

After securing the division championship late the night before with an Oakland loss, the Astros took the opportunity to rest some key players and also make it a bullpen day on the mound. Chris Devenski started things off, but the Blue Jays jumped on top of him in the first with a two-run homer to take a quick 2-0 lead. Devenski finished two innings, then Cionel Perez took over for the next three innings, the last of which included another homer by the Blue Jays, a solo shot in the fifth. That made it 3-1 after the Astros worked a run in on an infield single by Carlos Correa in the top of the fourth. The 3-1 score held to the end with Lance McCullers Jr. making his first appearance off the DL with a perfect sixth inning, followed by Reymin Guduan with a scoreless seventh and Dean Deetz with a scoreless eighth. Despite the loss, the Astros still held their division title celebration in the clubhouse after the game, sending them on to Baltimore with only a few franchise records and personal numbers at stake. 
Final Score: Astros 1, Blue Jays 3

Friday, Sept. 28: 100-58 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 46-112 Orioles (David Hess)

After Thursday night's game being postponed to a doubleheader on Saturday, the series with Baltimore got under way on Friday night with Gerrit Cole on the mound. Cole didn't have the best start to the game, allowing a run on two hits in the first inning, putting the Orioles on top 1-0. Cole would settle in after that, though, to keep the Orioles to just that one run over the next five innings, finishing with six innings of work during which he allowed the one run on five hits with an unusually low strikeout count of only four. After only managing two hits through the first five innings while being shutout, Josh Reddick finally got Houston on the board with a solo home run to tie the game in the top of the sixth. Tony Sipp was first out of the bullpen for a scoreless seventh, then the offense got to work in the top of the eighth, loading the bases with a couple of walks and single to bring up Marwin Gonzalez with one out. Gonzalez was able to break the tie with an RBI single to put the Astros up 2-1 before an inning-ending double play ended their threat. Collin McHugh took over in the eighth, a perfect inning to send the one-run game to the ninth. That set up Roberto Osuna for the save, which he converted after working around a two-out single and with big help from Jake Marisnick who made a spectacular diving catch for the final out to give the Astros a win to start the series.
Final Score: Astros 2, Orioles 1

Saturday, Sept. 29th (Game 1): 101-58 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 46-113 Orioles (Dylan Bundy)

Justin Verlander was on the mound for his final start of the regular season in the first of two games on Saturday. He did not disappoint, having another double-digit strikeout game with 10 to raise his season total to 290. Verlander went six shutout innings during which he allowed just three hits and walked one, adding one more terrific start to his bid for an AL Cy Young award. After being shut out for the first five innings, a leadoff walk by Tony Kemp in the sixth set up a crushed homer by George Springer to give Houston their first runs of the game and take a 2-0 lead. Carlos Correa was up next and made it back-to-back homers to finally get a morale-boosting plate appearance after his ongoing struggles and make it 3-0. Joe Smith took over for Verlander in the seventh and after a one-out double then a walk allowed the Orioles to tie the game on a three-run home run, ruining the shutout and preventing Verlander from being a part of the decision after looking like he would notch one more win on the year. The Astros had a chance to break the tie in the top of the eighth with runners on first and second with one out but would be unable to come through. Will Harris was next out of the bullpen for the top of the eighth and was able to keep the game tied going to the ninth. In the top of the ninth, George Springer worked a two-out walk, bringing up Carlos Correa. Correa came through in the big spot, hitting a ball into the right-center gap that went to the wall and allowed Springer to score, giving Houston the lead back at 4-3 with the RBI-double. Hector Rondon came in for the save opportunity in the bottom of the ninth and was able to get some key defense behind him to work around back-to-back singles to lead off the inning to close things out to give Houston the win in game one of the double-header.
Final Score: Astros 4, Orioles 3 

Saturday, Sept. 29th (Game 2): 102-58 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 46-114 Orioles (Yefry Ramirez)

About 30 minutes after the first game, the second game of the doubleheader was underway. With only Tyler White at first base and Evan Gattis as DH doing double-duty, the Astros had a fresh lineup in for game two, including newcomer Myles Straw who was able to get his first major league home run and RBI with a solo shot in the top of the first to put Houston up 1-0 early. Dallas Keuchel was on a predetermined limit of three innings, and it was the second of those three which was the worst. After a leadoff single and one-out walk, Keuchel allowed an RBI-single to tie the game 1-1. Keuchel would get out of that inning and was able to keep the game tied after the third as well. Houston threatened to score multiple runs in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with one out, but would come away with just one after an RBI walk from Jake Marisnick made it 2-1 before Yefry Ramirez ended the threat. With Keuchel's short night done, Brad Peacock was first out of the bullpen and threw a perfect fourth inning. Framber Valdez was next, taking the mound in the fifth, hoping to get through several innings for Houston. Valdez got through the fifth and sixth innings without issue, during which Brian McCann extended Houston's lead to 3-1 in the top of the sixth with a solo home run. After getting through the previous two innings, Valdez struggled in the seventh, loading the bases with one out, ending his night and bringing in Lance McCullers Jr. for another relief appearance since returning from the DL. McCullers would throw a wild pitch while facing his first batter resulting in the Orioles trimming the lead to one run at 3-2 but would get a strikeout and groundout to keep the lead intact. In the top of the eighth, Brian McCann got on base with a two-out single, allowing Jake Marisnick to capitalize with a two-run home run to extend the lead back out to 5-2. Chris Devenski took over in the bottom of the eighth and made it a 1-2-3 inning to send the game to the ninth, where Ryan Pressly worked around a one-out walk to finish off the win and put the Astros at 103 wins, a new franchise record. 
Final Score: Astros 5, Orioles 2

Sunday, Sept. 30: 103-58 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 46-115 Orioles (Jimmy Yacabonis)

With the franchise record already set, and their seeding in the playoffs accounted for, the Astros took Sunday's game as an opportunity for one last tune-up before the break until the ALDS. One of those players looking to get limited playing time in the game was Charlie Morton, who like Keuchel before him was only slated to go three innings. Morton got through those three innings without allowing any runs, giving up just one hit, and striking out four, ending his regular season with a few more quality innings. The same could not be said of Brad Peacock, who was only able to get one out in the fourth inning before letting the Orioles take a 4-0 lead after several hits and an error. Chris Devenski was able to come in for the final two outs, but the damage had been done. Many of the starters, like Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Yuli Gurriel took a few at-bats in the game but were then substituted for to keep them rested and healthy for the postseason. This made the four-run deficit that much larger, and even with the bullpen getting through the next four innings without a run, the Astros would get shutout in the meaningless game 162 of the season. 
Final Score: Astros 0, Orioles 4

Summary

The Astros did exactly what they needed to do this week, getting some wins (and losses for Oakland) to lock up the division early in the week, giving them a chance to finetune some things and rest players to close out the season. That didn't stop them from still taking advantage of a weak Orioles team, getting more wins to put their final record at 103-59, a franchise best. I'd argue the Astros have a better team this year than they did last year, which is comforting heading into the playoffs. Last year they were led by a historic offense, while in 2018 they were instead propelled by a historic pitching staff. The series with the Indians, on paper, looks like it will be an epic pitching matchup with four of this year's Cy Young candidates looking to square off. It was a good chance to get a morale boost against the Orioles to end the season, which will hopefully help the offense come out blazing with some confidence at home in the ALDS. Carlos Correa finally looked to take the turn to see and swing better at the plate on Saturday, which could be a huge difference-maker in the playoffs if he has truly turned things around. All in all, this team will be healthy and ready to go toe-to-toe with anyone this postseason and should be considered one of the favorites to win it all, again. 

MVP of the Week - A.J. Hinch

Obviously, the players always deserve most of the credit for the success of a team in a year, but with an array of guys contributing this week in the mostly meaningless (other than getting the record for wins) games, I wanted to give some credit to manager A.J. Hinch. After coming in at the end of another disappointing season in 2014, Hinch took the reigns of this team with tremendous upside. Many would argue they were ahead of schedule in 2015 when they made the playoffs as a wild-card team, then made an early exit in the ALDS. They then posted another winning season in 2016, though missed the playoffs. They took it all the way to the top in 2017, and are in prime position to do it again in 2018, and it's in large part due to Jeff Lunhow bringing in top talent, and Hinch managing them to the best of their potential. Hinch is a big reason why this team has gone from consecutive 100-loss seasons to back-to-back 100-win seasons. 

This Week

  • Fri, October 5th: ALDS Game 1 - Indians @ Astros
  • Saturday, October 6th: ALDS Game 2 - Indians @ Astros 

The regular season has come to a close. The Astros will get a few days off before the ALDS starts on Friday here in Houston at Minute Maid Park. The Astros have home-field advantage thanks to a better record than the Indians and will host Games 1 and 2, as well as Game 5 if necessary. Game 1 will be on Friday, and Game 2 on Saturday, both with times TBA. Stay tuned for our  full game recaps of all Astros playoff games here on SportsMap.