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

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.
McCullers Jr. deals, Astros pull out the win over Angels

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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Braves beat Houston in extra innings, 5-4. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Marcell Ozuna hit his major league-leading eighth homer and Orlando Arcia’s RBI single in the 10th inning lifted the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros on Wednesday.

It completes a three-game sweep of the struggling Astros and is Atlanta’s fourth straight victory.

The Braves scored two runs in the eighth inning to tie it at 4-4. Michael Harris II started the 10th as the automatic runner on second and there was one out in the inning when Seth Martinez (1-1) intentionally walked Matt Olson.

Ozuna lined out to right field to send Harris to third base. Arcia then singled on a ground ball to left field to score Harris and put the Braves on top.

Pinch-runner Jake Meyers was on second when Kyle Tucker walked with no outs in the 10th. Meyers moved to third on a fly out by Yainer Diaz but Jeremy Peña grounded into a double play to end it.

A.J. Minter (3-1) got the last two outs of the ninth for the win and Raisel Iglesias earned his fifth save.

Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. added his first homer of the season to help the Braves to the victory. Ozuna also leads the majors with 23 RBIs and he extended his hitting streak to 16 games, which ties his career best and is the longest active streak in the majors.

Yordan Alvarez and Mauricio Dubón both homered for the Astros, who fell to 6-14 and are last in the AL West.

There was one out in the first when Alvarez connected on his homer to the seats in left field to put Houston up 1-0.

Ozuna opened the second with his 432-foot shot to left field, which bounced off the wall and tied the game.

Acuña put the Braves up 2-1 when he sent the first pitch of the fifth inning to straightaway center field.

The Astros tied it on an RBI single by Alex Bregman in the fifth and Kyle Tucker’s RBI double came next to put the Astros up 3-2.

Dubón hit his first home run of the year off Jesse Chavez to start Houston’s sixth and push the lead to 4-2.

Harris singled to start the seventh before a ground-rule double by Austin Riley. Olson reached, and Harris scored on a fielding error by first baseman José Abreu when he couldn’t grab a routine ground ball.

There was one out in the inning when Riley scored on a sacrifice fly by Arcia to tie it at 4-all.

Houston starter J.P. France allowed four hits and two runs in five innings.

Max Fried gave up seven hits and three runs in five innings.


Braves: Atlanta is off Thursday before opening a series against Texas on Friday night with LHP Chris Sale (1-1, 4.58 ERA) on the mound.

Astros: Houston is also off Thursday before ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night against Washington. The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder.

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