ASTROS REPORT

Astros come through in primetime and against the A's to extend division lead

Tyler White had a big week. Bob Levey/Getty Images

After rattling off five wins in a row last week to maintain their division lead, the Astros had a big task in front of them this week as they returned home. Here's how they did against the A's and Angels:

Monday, August 27th: 79-52 A's (Brett Anderson) vs. 80-50 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Things were not looking great to start the big series with the A's on Monday night after Oakland smashed two two-run homers, one in the second and one in the third, to jump out to a quick 4-0 lead. The Astros roared back in the bottom of the third, though, getting four hits in a row and back-to-back-to-back RBI doubles from George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve to trim the lead to one run at 4-3. Marwin Gonzalez would keep his hot August going to tie the game with an RBI single, ending Brett Anderson's day early. A new pitcher couldn't stop the Astros from hitting, as Tyler White would give the Astros their first lead of the night with an RBI single to cap off a huge five-run, seven hit inning and put Houston ahead 5-4. Gerrit Cole, after allowing the early home runs, settled in and was able to complete six innings with eight strikeouts putting him in line for the win thanks to the offensive support. Collin McHugh was first out of the bullpen and pitched a scoreless seventh followed by another strong inning from Ryan Pressly in the eighth. Houston's bats were cracking again in the bottom of the eighth, giving plenty of insurance runs after three-run home runs by Alex Bregman and Tyler White to extend the lead way out to 11-4. That allowed Joe Smith to take over in the ninth to close out the win and complete the comeback from down 4-0 to score eleven unanswered and move to 2.5 games ahead of Oakland and extend their winning streak to six. 
Final Score: A's 4, Astros 11

Tuesday, August 28th: 79-53 A's (Edwin Jackson) vs. 81-50 Astros (Charlie Morton)

Houston got on the board first on Tuesday night, getting a leadoff single by Carlos Correa who then moved to second on a passed ball, advanced to third on a groundout, then scored on an RBI groundout by Tyler White to give the Astros the quick 1-0 lead. Charlie Morton created problems for himself in the top of the third, issuing a two-out walk, hitting the next batter, then giving up a three-run home run to erase Houston's one-run lead and make it 3-1 Oakland. That score held until the bottom of the fifth where (who else) Alex Bregman came through with a clutch two-out, two-RBI double to tie the game at 3. The tie held to the ninth inning where Roberto Osuna took over to try and give the offense a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the inning, but instead allowed an RBI double to give Oakland the advantage at 4-3. The Astros would come up empty in the bottom of the ninth, equaling the series at a game each and also ending their winning streak. 
Final Score: A's 4, Astros 3

Wednesday, August 29th: 80-53 A's (Trevor Cahill) vs. 81-51 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

Houston once again jumped out to a quick lead on Wednesday afternoon, getting a two-run first inning on RBIs from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Oakland answered a few innings later, tagging Dallas Keuchel with three runs on four hits just in the top of the third to get a 3-2 edge. The Astros would flip things back their way with a big inning of their own in the bottom of the fourth, getting an RBI single from George Springer and RBI walk with the bases loaded by Alex Bregman to regain the lead at 4-3 and end Trevor Cahill's day early. Keuchel bounced back from the bad third inning to complete six innings with the three runs allowed on eight hits and five strikeouts. Brad Peacock was first out of the bullpen in the top of the seventh, and much like Cahill earlier mismanaged a bases-loaded situation, hitting a batter to tie the game at 4-4. The game remained gridlocked in the tie until the ninth, where Roberto Osuna came through with a much better inning than the day before, working around a one-out double to strike out the side. In the bottom of the inning, Tyler White played the hero by sneaking a ball just over the Crawford Box wall to get the walk-off homer to win the game and the series.
Final Score: A's 4, Astros 5

Thursday, August 30th: 64-69 Angels (Andrew Heaney) vs. 82-51 Astros (Justin Verlander)

The series opener against the Angels on Thursday was a pitching battle for most of the game. Andrew Heaney matched up well with Justin Verlander, keeping Houston scoreless through his six innings with just five hits and six strikeouts. Verlander was looking even better through five innings, allowing just two hits while striking out eleven in those innings, but it would be a bad sixth inning that would make the difference in the game. In the top of the sixth, the Angels would finally figure out Verlander, getting a leadoff double and one-out single to put runners on the corners. That would lead to an RBI single for the first run of the game, and ending Verlander's night. Tony Sipp was out to face one left-handed batter, which he walked to load the bases. Will Harris was out next and allowed a two-RBI double on his first pitch to tag Verlander with two more runs, ruining an otherwise great performance. Harris would get out of that inning, and pitch the seventh as well. Chris Devenski made his first relief appearance since returning from the DL in the eighth but had a rough one after a couple of singles, a passed ball, and a balk gave Los Angeles their fifth run of the night to make it 5-0. Tyler White tried to get a rally going in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run home run, but that would be as close as Houston would come as the Angels would steal the first game of the four-game series. 
Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 2

Friday, August 31st: 65-69 Angels (Jamie Barria) vs. 82-52 Astros (Framber Valdez)

The offenses once again fell victim to strong pitching from both sides early in Friday night's game, with both Jamie Barria and Framber Valdez pitching well. Valdez impressed again on the mound, getting through the first five while allowing just two hits to the Angels. He was back out for the sixth, but with a high pitch count and issuing a four-pitch walk to start the inning, had his night come to an end with Collin McHugh coming out to keep the scoreless tie in place. McHugh would have a rare bad outing, though, allowing a single, sac fly, and a two-run homer which would give Valdez an earned run and eventual loss while allowing the Angels to take a 3-0 lead. Those three runs by the Angels would be plenty to send them on to the win, as Houston's offense could get nothing going in the game and were held to just six hits in the shutout.
Final Score: Angels 3, Astros 0

Saturday, September 1st: 66-69 Angels (Felix Pena) vs. 82-53 Astros (Josh James)

With the calendar flipping to September, the final month of the regular season, it also meant rosters expanding. This resulted in Brian McCann being recalled off the DL to make the start behind the plate, catching Josh James, a prospect in the Astros system making his first MLB start, filling in the hole in the rotation left by Lance McCullers who is still on the DL. James made his presence felt right away, getting his first strikeout on the first batter the game on a 100 mph heater. James ran into trouble in the second inning, though, putting the first two runners on base with a walk and single before allowing a two-out three-run homer to put the Angels up 3-0 early. James was brilliant after that bad inning, getting through the next three innings without allowing another hit, finishing with five innings during which he allowed three runs on three hits and struck out an impressive nine. Houston's offense got to work, chipping away at the lead with a sac fly from Brian McCann in the third and solo homer by Alex Bregman in the sixth to cut the deficit to one. It stayed 3-2 in favor of Los Angeles until the bottom of the eighth, where with two on base and two outs Carlos Correa got one of his biggest hits since coming off the DL, an RBI single into the outfield gap to tie the game. Tyler White fueled off of that, lifting a ball to the wall of the Crawford Boxes, scoring two more for the go-ahead two-RBI double to make it 5-3. The Astros would get one more run on an error before the inning was over, making it a four-run inning to double up the Angels at 6-3. That set up Roberto Osuna for the save in the ninth, which he did by retiring all three batters in order to seal the win. 
Final Score: Angels 3, Astros 6

Sunday, September 2nd: 66-70 Angels (Shohei Ohtani) vs. 83-53 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

The win on Saturday kept in play a chance to split the series for the Astros, but to do so they'd have to go through phenom Shohei Ohtani who was back on the mound for the first time since June 6 due to an elbow ligament issue. Ohtani was looking sharp in his return, until the bottom of the third when he issued a leadoff walk followed by a two-run bomb by George Springer to give Houston a 2-0 lead. Ohtani would face one more batter, but that would be it for him in a short start. The Angels threatened in the fourth, getting their first two batters on who then advanced to second and third on a passed ball. Tyler White saved a run on a groundball he bulleted to home for the first out, then another groundball looked to get Gerrit Cole out of the jam, but a bobble by Bregman resulted in just one out instead of two, and scored a run. George Springer missed another homer by just a few inches to leadoff the bottom of the fifth, but it ended up being only a double which led to the Astros loading the bases with no outs. Carlos Correa worked a no-out RBI walk to make it a 3-1 game, but the next three batters would be retired in order to limit the threat to just one run. Cole, after getting in and out of the trouble in the fourth, allowed two singles around a strikeout in the sixth to end his night. Tony Sipp was out next and walked his batter, bringing out Joe Smith with the bases loaded who hit a batter on his first pitch to allow the Angels to trim the lead to one run at 3-2 before getting out of the jam. Ryan Pressly threw yet another solid inning in the top of the seventh, then Alex Bregman extended the lead back to two runs with a one-out solo homer in the bottom of the inning. Hector Rondon worked around a two-out walk to get through the top of the eighth, then Roberto Osuna shut things down in the ninth to give the Astros the win to split the series. 
Final Score: Angels 2, Astros 4

Summary

With the win on Sunday night to split the series with the Angels, the Astros ended up 4-3 on the week, winning one series and splitting the other. The A's, who were knocking on the door at 1.5 games back last week, fall one game back after this week's set of games, going to 2.5 games back. The Astros winning that series against Oakland went a long way to keep them in front, and with the team mostly healthy should continue to give them a boost to put up a strong September. Correa improved this week, which he needed to do after struggling at the plate since returning to the DL. Altuve likely won't get another 200-hit season to put in his record book but is back in the lineup contributing like only he can. The young pitchers Houston is turning to are coming through to eat up some innings and put Houston in good shape to win games, which is a great feat resulting in keeping guys like Verlander, Cole, and Keuchel rested and fresh for the postseason. All in all, Houston likely won't overtake Boston, though there is a huge series on tap this weekend, as the best team in the AL, however, they are in good shape to finish the regular season strong. The good news is the Astros have a relatively winnable schedule down the stretch to fine-tune things for the playoffs.

Co-MVPs of the Week - Tyler White & Alex Bregman

Is there anyone who could have pointed at Tyler White at the beginning of this season and said: "That guy is going to be a red-hot DH for the Astros come September"? I think it is probably highly unlikely. Nonetheless, here we are, and here he is. He joins Alex Bregman as two guys in the lineup this week (and the month of August) that have continued to deliver. Bregman went 10-for-27 this week including three homers and 9 RBIs while White went 11-for-27 with three homers and 10 RBIs, putting them both at the top of my list as guys who continue to perform for Houston and hopefully will be key pieces down the stretch. 

This Week

  • Mon-Wed: 63-73 Twins @ 84-53 Astros
  • Fri-Sun: 84-53 Astros @ 94-44 Red Sox

The Astros will wrap up their homestand to start the week with a three-game series against the Twins. Minnesota is coming off a series loss in Arlington against the Rangers, and find themselves almost certainly out of playoff contention to start September. Then, Houston will travel to Boston for what is likely to be their biggest remaining series of the regular season against the Red Sox. This will be a taste of the postseason for the Astros since Boston should very likely see the AL playoffs run through Fenway Park since they are well on pace to finish the season with the best record. The Astros will need to squash the Twins then focus on winning two or more games in Boston this weekend to make a statement that they'll still be the team to beat this year. 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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