Houston's magic number is down to 1

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 6-4 win

Astros Daily Report
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After the mini-sweep of the Rangers concluding with win number 100 on the season which secured a playoff spot, the Astros turned their sights to clinching the division. With their magic number at 2, they could clinch on Friday with a win in the series opener against Los Angeles and an Oakland loss. Here is a recap of the first game of the weekend against the Angels:

Final Score: Astros 6, Angels 4.

Record: 101-53, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Zack Greinke (17-5, 3.05 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Jaime Barria (4-10, 6.43 ERA).

1) Starting with a bang

With a chance to clinch their division and continue to lead the battle for playoff home-field advantage, Houston came out swinging on Friday night. In the first inning, the Astros blasted three home runs with solo shots from Jose Altuve which led off the inning, and Alex Bregman as he tries to catch the sidelined Mike Trout for a possible MVP award.

Later in the inning, Carlos Correa took advantage of a runner on base with a home run of his own, a two-run bomb to extend the lead before Josh Reddick tacked on one more with an RBI-single to make it 5-0 after one.

2) Greinke struggles in the fourth but finishes five innings

Zack Greinke allowed just two hits through the first three innings: a single and a solo home run which at the time cut the lead to 5-1. Carlos Correa pushed the lead back to five runs with his second home run of the night in the bottom of the third.

Greinke would struggle in the top of the fourth, however, allowing five straight hits which would score three runs to cut Houston's lead to 6-4. He would recover and toss a 1-2-3 fifth, but that would be it for him in a five-inning start, as Houston passed the ball to their bullpen to throw the last four frames. His final line: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR.

3) Houston's bullpen dominant the rest of the way

Josh James was the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen to take over for Greinke in the top of the sixth and erased a two-out walk to complete a scoreless inning. Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance in a month after having surgery on his knee, returned dominantly with a 1-2-3 inning.

Will Harris did the same in the top of the eighth, holding the two-run lead going to the ninth. Roberto Osuna had the chance for another save in the top of the ninth and converted it to finish off the 6-4 win. That reduced the magic number to one, meaning the Astros are now a win or Oakland loss away from clinching the American League West. They are also just two wins away from matching last year's franchise number of 103.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set with the Angles will be on Saturday at 6:10 PM. Wade Miley (14-5, 3.71 ERA) will get the start for Houston while Patrick Sandoval (0-3, 4.91 ERA) is expected to be on the mound for Los Angeles.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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The Astros host the Orioles on Friday night. Composite Getty Image.

Say it with me: The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet! The odds favor them missing the postseason for the first time since 2016, but they definitely aren’t dead yet. Too much season left.

The Astros sure hope they hit their season standings rock bottom in falling 10 games back of Seattle in the American League West Tuesday. Two wins over the hapless White Sox later, coupled with two Mariner losses in Cleveland, and the deficit is eight going into the weekend. The Astros’ real race may be for a Wild Card. On that front they sit six games behind Minnesota, six and a half back of Kansas City. The Twins and Royals currently hold the second and third Wild Card slots. The Astros also trail Boston by five games.

The Astros’ season needs some positive jolts if it is not to slip away. A shot at one comes Friday night with pitcher Jake Bloss called up from Double-A Corpus Christi for his Major League debut. He is merely tasked with facing the best offense in the AL as the Baltimore Orioles visit Minute Maid Park this weekend. Bloss was the Astros’ third round draft pick last summer. He turns 23 on Sunday. He started well this season at High-A Asheville earning the move up to AA. As a Hook, Bloss was spectacular in posting a 1.61 earned run average over eight starts with a scant 19 hits allowed over 44 2/3 innings. Bloss gets the fast big league call out of necessity (with Justin Verlander on the injured list), because he excelled, and because the Astros have no significant pitching prospect knocking at the door from Triple-A Sugar Land. Not one guy in the Space Cowboys’ rotation has given up fewer hits than he has thrown innings. The Pacific Coast League is a hitters’ league, but that is a damning stat.

Blame game

With the Astros’ season a big fail to this point, it is the nature of the beast for some to call for the head(s) of Manager Joe Espada and/or General Manager Dana Brown. Espada has certainly not distinguished himself as some brilliant rookie skipper, but blaming numerous lackluster player performances on him is classic scapegoating. Brown is in his second season and does have a couple of stains on his early record, but the foremost task Brown was charged with at hire was rejuvenating the Astros’ weak farm system. It takes two or three draft classes to infuse some depth of young talent. If the Astros are sellers as the trade deadline approaches, selling is another avenue through which Brown tries to add good prospects.

Brown picked Bloss. Brown’s first first round pick was shortstop Brice Matthews who also recently earned promotion to Corpus Christi. If Jeremy Pena doesn’t show improvement, and if Matthews is fulfilling his potential, he could be challenging for the shortstop job by the end of next season. 2023 second round pick, pitcher Alonzo Tredwell, has been bad so far with the Low-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

Midsummer Classic

The first phase of All-Star balloting ends Thursday at 11AM Central Time. The Astros’ representation on the American League team is simple: three definites and one maybe. Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez all rightfully are poised to be elected starters. Altuve has to hold off the Rangers’ Marcus Semien, but at minimum will be added as a reserve. For Altuve it will be his ninth All-Star team, adding on to his franchise record after not making the team last year because he missed the first month and a half of the season with a broken thumb.

Tucker and Alvarez will both become three-time All-Stars. Neither has been voted a starter before. Even with the time he’s missing on the injured list, Tucker belongs in the outfield with the Yankees’ superstar combo of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto. Alvarez’s opportunity to win the vote at designated hitter opened up when Shohei Ohtani switched leagues in signing with the Dodgers.

Last year the Texas Rangers dominated the AL lineup with five starters. It was not an omen that they would go on to win the World Series. This year Arlington hosts the game at Globe Life Field, but Semien is the only Ranger anywhere close to the lead in the fan voting.

As for the one Astro All-Star maybe, that is Ronel Blanco. The 30-year-old has come out of nowhere to be the Astros’ ace, but he is not a lock. I don’t think his foreign substance suspension hurts much other than it factors into Blanco having pitched fewer innings than almost all other candidates. It’s a matter of math. A maximum of nine starting pitchers make the squad, there may only be eight taken. It’s not hard to name nine guys who could get the nod over Blanco, especially when you factor in that every team must be represented. Tyler Anderson is the most deserving Angel. Erick Fedde or Garret Crochet is the most deserving White Sox (Sock?). The Seattle Mariners have no deserving everyday player, though some might argue Cal Raleigh if three catchers are taken. The M’s are dominating the AL West on the back of stellar starting pitching. It’s hard to see no Mariner starter getting picked, although only Logan Gilbert at 2.93 has an earned run average within 0.50 of Blanco’s 2.43. Blanco has three more starts to strengthen his case before the staff is named July 7.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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