Astros are AL West division champs for third straight season

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 13-5 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Houston Astros are the 2019 winners of the American League West. Here is a quick recap of Sunday's game that clinched it:

With their magic number staying put at 1 after a loss on Saturday, Houston tried once again to lock up the division with a win on Sunday with Justin Verlander on the mound in the series finale against the Angels.

Final Score: Astros 13, Angels 5.

Record: 102-54, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Justin Verlander (20-6, 2.53 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Jose Rodriguez (0-1, 3.24 ERA).

1) George "triple-dinger" Springer

Houston's offense did their part early in Sunday's game to make sure they would be able to wrap up the AL West on the field. George Springer set the tone in the bottom of the first, getting a leadoff home run to give Houston a 1-0 lead.

After the Angels got the run back to tie the game in the top of the second, Springer returned to the plate for his second at-bat and hit another home run, this time a two-run shot to put the Astros back in front 3-1. Los Angeles tried to shift the momentum by getting a run back in the top of the fourth to cut the lead to one, but Springer would make it three-for-three with another solo home run in the bottom of the fourth, making it 4-2.

The rest of the offense would get in on the scoring in the bottom of the fifth, putting together a six-run inning on a two-run homer by Alex Bregman, a two-RBI single by Robinson Chirinos, an RBI-single by Jose Altuve, and one more scoring on a passed ball.

2) Verlander gets win number 20

Justin Verlander dealt with some high-leverage situations early in this start before his offense gave him plenty of slack. After a scoreless first, he would allow back-to-back two-out triples in the top of the second which tied the game 1-1. He worked around a leadoff single for a scoreless third but would allow the Angels to pull within one after putting runners on the corners with no out to set up an RBI-groundout in the top of the fourth.

He rebounded from that by erasing a single and walk in the fifth inning to keep the game at 4-2 before his offense put up the big inning of offense to put the game out of reach and allow him to enjoy the rest of the game from the dugout. The five-inning, two-run start was good enough to earn him his 20th win of the 2019 season. His final line: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR.

3) Division champs again

With Verlander given the rest of the game off with the big lead putting him in line for the win, the Astros turned the ball to Brad Peacock who made his first appearance since the end of August. He worked around a one-out walk in the top of the sixth to throw a scoreless inning. In the bottom half, Aledmys Diaz tacked on three more runs with a three-run homer to make it 13-2.

Framber Valdez was next out of Houston's bullpen but would not record an out in the seventh after loading the bases, prompting the move to bring in Josh James. James would watch a few runs come across on an error, a single, and a bases-loaded walk, but would get through the inning. Chris Devenski turned things around with a 1-2-3 eighth.

Roberto Osuna came in to record the final three outs, wrapping up the win to not only secure the series victory but clinched the American League West for the third straight season.

Up Next: With the division won, the Astros will need a successful final week of regular-season play to maintain their grasp of the best record in baseball. They will have a day off on Monday before picking up a series in Seattle on Tuesday at 9:10 PM. In the opener of the two-game set, the expected pitchers are Gerrit Cole (18-5, 2.61 ERA) for Houston and Justin Dunn (0-0, 6.75 ERA) for Seattle as an opener.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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