5 intriguing stats as the Astros enter the final stretch

Framber Valdez has things going in the right direction. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros finished last week with a 4-2 record after winning back-to-back series against the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. As it currently stands, Houston has a 77-53 record and hold a 5.5 game lead over the Oakland A's in their division with 32 games remaining.

Houston received some much-needed help with the return of two players from injury, and others continuing to make strides as the regular season is coming to a close.

Welcome back Alex Bregman. The third basemen returned to the Astros lineup Wednesday against the Royals for the first time since June 16th when he went on the injured list with a strained quad. Bregman got two hits, drove in an RBI and scored the winning run in the 10th inning to cap off his first game back. The 27-year-old has a slash line of .357/.471/.429 since coming off the IL. Albeit a four-game sample size, his return to the lineup will help bolster this team both on the field and at the plate.

Kyle Tucker was reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list on Tuesday against the Royals. In his first five games, the outfielder has accumulated seven hits with a home run as well.

With Tucker and Bregman officially returning to the team this past week, the Astros' bats are fully healthy for the first time since June.

While some players are happy to be back, others are sharpening their skills just as October is approaching.

Yordan Alvarez continues to increase his power numbers as the playoffs near. The 24-year-old designated hitter/outfielder hit six homer runs in his last nine games and leads the team with 28 homers. For the month of August, Alvarez is hitting .305 with 21 RBI. He continues to be a mainstay in the heart of this Astros lineup, and looks to be a key contributor at the plate as the season comes to an end.

Framber Valdez had a solid outing against the Rangers Saturday, as he struck out seven and walked one over seven innings. The left-hander threw 61 of 85 pitches for strikes as well. Valdez has thrown seven innings of work in back-to-back starts and only gave up 3 hits in each of those outings. Over his last 7 starts, he is 4-2 with an ERA of 2.44.

Valdez ended the month of June with a 4-1 record with a 2.10 ERA, but struggled a little in the month of July. His ERA ballooned to 4.05, but has steadily decreased with every start since August 5th.

Speaking of that stat, the Astros have a 3.68 team ERA which ranks 5th in Major League Baseball. Valdez, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers look to be the top three pitchers this postseason with either Luis Garcia or Jose Urquidy (when he returns) bolstering the end of that postseason rotation.

Ryan Pressly worked the ninth on Saturday against the Rangers for his 21st save in 23 chances.

The All-Star closer has not allowed a run in his last three outings, and has lowered his ERA to 1.87. With Pressly and Kendall Graveman pitching at All-Star levels, the back end of the Astros' bullpen looks lethal.

Injury Notes: Jason Castro was placed on the injured list with knee discomfort. Martin Maldonado will most likely catch more games during his absence with Garrett Stubbs giving him a day off every now and then.

Up Next: Luis Garcia takes the mound as the Astros open up a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners with division positioning on the line.

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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