5 exciting players to keep an eye on as Astros hit stretch run

Lance McCullers recorded his 11th win on Monday. Photo by Getty Images.

After dropping back-to-back series, the Houston Astros enjoyed some home cooking as they bested the Seattle Marines two out of three contests at Minute Maid Park. With 23 games remaining, the Astros have an 81-58 record and currently have a 5.5 game lead over the aforementioned Mariners.

Houston played Seattle last week at T-Mobile Park, but forgot to bring their offense with them. The Mariners outscored the Astros 9-3 and won the series two games to one.

The Astros got some much-needed offensive help from some unexpected players, and All-Stars getting hot at the right time.

Marwin Gonzalez made his 2021 Astros debut on Monday when he came in for Alex Bregman as a defensive replacement. The former Astros' utility player signed a minor league deal on August 27th after being released by the Red Sox two weeks earlier.

Gonzalez player the majority of his career with the Astros from 2012 to 2018, helping them win a World Series in 2017 along the way. The utility player signed a 2-year $21 million dollar deal with the Twins in 2019. He played for Minnesota for two seasons before signing with the Red Sox in 2021 on a one-year deal worth $3 million.

For the first time since the 2018 ALCS, Gonzalez wore the Astros white uniform. He helped turn a double play in the 8th inning Monday night and received a standing ovation when he came to the plate.

Gonzalez followed up his debut by starting at third base on Wednesday afternoon and hit a two-run homer. It's as if he picked up right where he left off at Minute Maid Park.

It is undetermined if Gonzalez will make the Astros' playoff roster, but if he continues to play well, manager Dusty Baker could surely use a playoff veteran like Marwin somewhere in his lineup.

Gonzalez wasn't the only Astros' player to make a comeback, as pitcher Jose Urquidy took the mound twice during a 6-game span. He started on Friday, September 3rd against the Padres and Wednesday, September 8th. Although Urquidy pitched only 7.1 combined innings over those two starts, it is good to see the Astros' rotation getting closer to normalcy once Zack Greinke returns from his COVID-19 injury list stint.

Career-high win total for McCullers

Speaking of this rotation, starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. gave up four hits and two runs with seven strikeouts Monday night against the Mariners. McCullers improved his pitching record to 11-4. This is the first time McCullers has earned 11 wins in a season.

"For me it's about just giving us a good chance to win ... and working toward that AL West title," McCullers said.

The 27-year-old looks to be the ace of this rotation with Greinke, Framber Valdez and either Urquidy or Luis Garcia to round out the playoff pitching staff.

Jose Altuve also seems to be improving as the season is coming to an end. The All-Star second basemen found the power in his swing again when hit not one but two homers against the Mariners. His season total for home runs now matches his jersey number at 27. Altuve's batting average has remained above .270 for around two weeks and looks to continuously be a threat at the top of the lineup once the playoffs roll around.

Since his return from the IL with a quad injury, Alex Bregman's numbers continue to rise across the board. He's slashing a .385/.407/.654 line in the month of September and hit a game-tying home run Tuesday night against the Mariners.

Bregman's presence at the plate will further bolster this Astros' lineup and make them a formidable contender come October.

Up Next: Houston has a day off Thursday before Valdez takes the mound to start a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.

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DeMeco Ryans looks like the Texans' choice as the next head coach. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans have been busy interviewing coaches over the last few weeks, and just this week, the team held second interviews with Giants OC Mike Kafka and Broncos DC Ejiro Evero. The Texans have also interviewed Los Angeles Rams tight ends coach and assistant head coach Thomas Brown, Sean Payton, Lions OC Ben Johnson, Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon, and Eagles OC Shane Steichen. Johnson has taken himself out of the mix and is returning to Detroit.

But according to a new report from Ian Rapoport, the Texans may already have their minds made up about their next head coach.

Former Texans linebacker and current 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans appears to be the top candidate for the Texans, and he is reportedly interested in the position, with a second interview likely to take place next week.

Ryans has been the defensive coordinator for the 49ers over the last two seasons. San Francisco was the best defense in the league in 2022.

Ryans is a popular pick for the position in Houston, and fans will be super excited if he eventually gets the job. Let's hope Rapoport's sources are correct, and the Texans have their new head coach lined up.

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