Dallas Keuchel bounced back. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Houston continued a lighter schedule this week after a day off Monday, starting with a trip to Oakland for three games in the AL West before taking on the struggling Royals in Kansas City over the weekend. Here's how they did:
Tuesday, June 12th: 42-25 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.) vs. 34-32 A's (Daniel Mengden)
Houston started the week down 1-0 after a wild pitch scored a run for Oakland in the bottom of the first in Tuesday night's game. Carlos Correa tied things up in the top of the second, however, before Evan Gattis added three more RBIs to his recent explosion on a three-run homer to make it 4-1. McCullers allowed a second run in the bottom of the second, and walked some batters in the fourth to load the bases, but was able to get through that and go on to pitch a solid seven-inning game with just the two earned runs. Gattis wasn't done with RBIs in the game, though, adding two more in the fifth inning on a two-run double to make it 6-2. Collin McHugh pitched the eighth and after hitting a couple of batters and an error allowed an RBI single to make it 6-3, but the A's would come no closer with Ken Giles coming in for the save in the ninth to keep the winning streak alive.
Final Score: Astros 6, A's 3
Wednesday, June 13th: 43-25 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 34-33 A's (Paul Blackburn)
It was all about the offense on Wednesday night, with Houston pouring it on Paul Blackburn early and dinging him with eight runs before he could get through two innings. Those eight runs paired with two more to jump out to a 10-0 lead came via three RBIs from Yuli Gurriel, a two-RBI triple from Carlos Correa, a solo home run from Marwin Gonzalez, and four RBIs from, who else, Evan Gattis on a sac fly and three-run home run. As has plagued him recently, Gerrit Cole did allow a couple of home runs which resulted in four runs, but with the large lead it was insignificant, and Cole was still able to finish six innings on his way to a win. Gattis made it back-to-back nights with five RBIs with a solo homer in the seventh, and even Jake Marisnick got in on the action with a two-run homer of his own in the ninth. The A's were able to score one run off of the bullpen, a home run off of Reymin Guduan who recently rejoined the team with Joe Smith going to the DL. It was Will Harris and Guduan who combined for the final three innings as the Astros finished the lopsided win.
Final Score: Astros 13, A's 5
Thursday, June 14th: 44-25 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 34-34 A's (Frankie Montas)
Houston was hot out of the gate yet again on Thursday afternoon, taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first with RBIs from Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick. Oakland trimmed that lead in half with a solo home run off of Justin Verlander in the bottom of the second to make it 2-1, but the Astros turned things right back around scoring five runs between the third and sixth innings on an error, RBIs from Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, and two-run homer by Brian McCann, making it 7-1. Oakland got another home run off of Verlander in the seventh, this time a two-run shot to make it 7-3, but they would come no closer. Verlander finished seven innings with those three runs allowed, followed by Chris Devenski and Hector Rondon who pitched a perfect inning each to complete the win, the three-game sweep, and extend the winning streak to eight.
Final Score: Astros 7, A's 3
Friday, June 15th: 45-25 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 22-46 Royals (Jakob Junis)
As they have done on many Friday nights since they won their championship in 2015, the Royals donned their gold-trimmed uniforms on Friday night to take on the reigning champion Astros in the series opener. Both pitchers looked sharp early, but the Royals struck first with a two-run third inning to go up 2-0 off of Charlie Morton. Alex Bregman recorded the first hit against Jakob Junis in the top of the fourth, a solo home run to make it 2-1 before Carlos Correa launched a solo shot of his own for the second hit and second homer of the inning, tying the game up 2-2. Morton looked to be back in control in the fourth with a perfect inning but began missing his spots in the fifth, walking three consecutive batters and walking in the go-ahead run to make it 3-2 Kansas City. Junis had a bad inning of his own in the next half-inning, allowing three consecutive hits to load the bases for Evan Gattis, who capitalized with a grand slam to make it 6-3 Houston and keep his unreal hot streak alive, also ending Junis' night. Morton was back out for the sixth and was able to get through it, but with the earlier tough innings had reached 98 pitches on the night. Morton's final line was still respectable, going the six full innings with three earned runs but striking out nine. Brad Peacock was first out of the bullpen and pitched a quick seventh inning while the offense continued to work, adding another run to make it 7-3 on an RBI-double by Marwin Gonzalez. That score held to the end with scoreless innings from Tony Sipp (who has looked surprisingly sharp recently) and Collin McHugh, locking up Houston's ninth straight win.
Final Score: Astros 7, Royals 3
Saturday, June 16th: 46-25 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 22-47 Royals (Danny Duffy)
The Astros got on top quick on Saturday afternoon, getting a leadoff walk from George Springer and single from Alex Bregman to set up Jose Altuve for a two-RBI double in the top of the first to get a 2-0 lead before an out had been recorded in the game. Keuchel pitched a strong game early, getting a ton of groundouts and keeping the Royals scoreless through four innings. He was given an extra cushion in the top of the fifth with an RBI check-swing single by Jake Marisnick who then scored after an error and sac fly from Alex Bregman, making it 4-0 Houston. Some bad luck turned things for Keuchel in the bottom of the fifth, however, after a rare error by Carlos Correa prevented the final out of the inning and ended up giving the Royals momentum to cut the lead in half on two unearned runs, costing Keuchel 15 extra pitches to finish the inning. The offense replenished the lead and more on a three-run homer by Max Stassi in the top of the sixth, making it a five-run game at 7-2. After the prolonged fifth inning, Keuchel came back out and finished the sixth to end his day, which despite the two runs, was a good return to form after the debacle in Arlington last week. Alex Bregman delivered a three-run home run of his own in the top of the ninth, making it an eight-run lead which Chris Devenski held to wrap up the win and make it ten straight.
Final Score: Astros 10, Royals 2
Sunday, June 17th: 47-25 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.) vs. 22-48 Royals (Brad Keller)
Both teams sported light blue accents for Father's Day on Sunday, but it was Houston who fathered in the first runs of the game. Alex Bregman got the first hit of the game with a single, followed by a walk by Jose Altuve. Both advanced on a passed ball before scoring on singles by Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel, making it a quick 2-0 advantage. The Royals answered back in their half of the inning as Lance McCullers Jr. struggled a bit, walking back-to-back batters before giving up a single to load the bases. An infield ground ball resulted in a run on a bad throw home by Alex Bregman, then a second would score on another ground ball, which this time was thrown to first for the second out on an exceptional play by McCullers before he got out of the inning looking at a 2-2 tie game. McCullers had one run saved in the bottom of the third by Marwin Gonzalez with a perfect throw from left field to nail the runner at the plate which held after a Royals challenge, however, a two-run homer by the Royals before that inning was over kept the momentum with Kansas City who took a 4-2 lead. Houston strung together some hits in the top of the fourth and scored one on an RBI single by Brian McCann, but would strand two runners to leave the Royals with a one-run lead. Houston had another chance in the top of the sixth with runners on the corners with no outs but would strand both after a strikeout and double play. Despite the four runs, McCullers finished his start strong, completing six innings and striking out nine batters, looking dominant in his later innings. Tony Sipp pitched a scoreless seventh before the Astros got a lift from Carlos Correa who drilled a laser home run to tie the game 4-4 in the top of the eighth. That home run sparked the offense, who regained the lead with a go-ahead RBI from Evan Gattis and one from Marwin Gonzalez to go up 6-4. Ken Giles took the mound for the eighth which he got through in order before a sac-fly from Carlos Correa in the ninth made it 7-4. Hector Rondon threw a scoreless ninth for another save, wrapping up the perfect road trip, three-game sweep, and extending the streak to eleven.
Final Score: Astros 7, Royals 4
Despite having to come back from behind late in Sunday's game to cap it off, the Astros continued to feast on an easier stretch of their schedule for a perfect 6-0 week. They currently sit with an eleven-game winning streak, matching their best streak of last year and one shy of the franchise record of twelve, which they could easily break this week. The winning ways have been fueled largely by the offense, who have outscored opponents 81-40 in the last eleven games. They've been getting production all through the lineup and have quickly proved everyone silly, similar to last year, that was worried about the offense after a slower start to the season. The rotation remains solid, and the three starters who had been the most questionable recently, Keuchel, Morton, and McCullers, all had decent starts against the Royals to hopefully give them momentum going forward. The bullpen continued to pitch well this week as well, and it seems that while the true closer spot works itself out A.J. Hinch has the luxury of putting out either Giles or Rondon on any given night since both have had hot hands. If there is one thing to nit-pick about, it would be that the baserunning and fielding looked a bit shaky this week, with errors in both of those phases. I think those things easily work themselves out as the season goes on, though.
MVP of the Week - Evan Gattis
I thought I might've been crazy to pick Gattis as my MVP a couple of weeks ago, but this week, there's no question. Gattis is now tied with Carlos Correa as the team leader in RBIs, which is also good for fifth best in the league, with 47 on the season after tallying an absurd fifteen this week. He had ten of those in the back-to-back games in Oakland including the epic grand slam. He hasn't only been hitting long balls, though; Gattis went 10-for-24 this week with four home runs, raising his average from .233 to .255. Who knows how long his bat stays hot, but for now, he's earned the DH spot in the lineup.
Mon-Wed: (33-38) Rays @ (48-25) Astros
Fri-Sun (22-49) Royals @ (48-25) Astros
After ten games on the road, the Astros return home for nine games, including six this week. Tonight, they'll start a three-game series against the Rays who with a 33-38 record find themselves looking way up in the AL East at the Yankees and Red Sox. Then, this weekend the Astros will square off against the Royals again, facing them for three more games to finish their season series all within a ten-day span. Look for Houston to cruise to another winning week.
Houston Astros skipper Joe Espada wasted no time this week at spring training by answering one of the most talked about questions of the offseason.
Espada revealed that newly-acquired free agent Josh Hader will be the team's closer and will pitch the ninth inning, with Ryan Pressly working as the setup man.
Bryan Abreu will be tapped to pitch the seventh inning, but it wouldn't shock anyone if he had the best season of the three. But after Abreu, things get interesting in the bullpen.
Who pitches the sixth inning?
Astros GM Dana Brown gave Rafael Montero a vote of confidence, saying he's “legit.”
While we have our concerns about Montero after he finished with an ERA over five last year, there's reason for hope. The nature of relief pitchers halving up and down seasons from year to year could work in Montero's favor.
And with the salary that's already committed to him, Brown will likely give him every opportunity to justify his contract. It will be fascinating to see how Espada deploys him early on. You have to think with the boss man backing Montero, Espada will be on board too.
But if he does struggle, will Espada quickly stop using him in critical situations? The good news is, the team won't often have to turn to him in high leverage situations with Abreu, Pressly, and Hader ready to handle those duties.
Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion about the Astros 'pen, and much more!
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