Astros Report

Astros feast on Rangers en route to 5-1 week as schedule lightens up

Alex Bregman is heating up. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Astros began a very winnable stretch of their season this week, coming at an opportune time after some tough matchups in recent weeks. Here's how they fared: 

Tuesday, June 5th: 37-22 Mariners (James Paxton) vs. 37-24 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

After ending the week last week in disappointing fashion, the start of this week was not any better. The Astros were dominated on both sides of the ball; the offense was unable to get anything going against James Paxton, giving him his second dominant start against Houston this season. Paxton went seven and two-thirds innings giving up just one run to the Astros which came on an RBI double by Marwin Gonzalez in the bottom of the second inning. Seattle had no problem hitting Dallas Keuchel, scoring six runs in the first two innings off of six hits, one being a three-run homer in the first inning, continuing Keuchel's recent issue with early-inning command. Keuchel allowed another home run in the fifth inning, this time a solo shot, bringing the score to 7-1 which would go down the final in a surprisingly lopsided victory for Seattle in Houston.
Final Score: Mariners 7, Astros 1

Wednesday, June 6th: 38-22 Mariners (Wade LeBlanc) vs. 37-25 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.)

There was a quieter start to Wednesday night's game, with the game going into the fourth inning scoreless. The Mariners struck first with a Nelson Cruz solo home run in the top of the fourth, but Evan Gattis continued his recent hot streak to answer back with a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the inning. George Springer extended the lead to 3-1 with an RBI double later in the same inning. Lance McCullers Jr. had another decent start going through five innings, allowing just that solo home run and two other hits, keeping Seattle mostly quiet. He faltered slightly in the sixth, giving up three hits and a run, making it a 3-2 game before giving up a solo home run to tie the game in the top of the seventh, then walked the next batter before getting relieved. That walk would become McCullers' fourth earned run on the night as Chris Devenski allowed a go-ahead single later in the inning, giving the Mariners the 4-3 advantage. Houston answered right back, however, putting together a four-run bottom of the inning on RBIs by Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve along with a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 7-4. Joe Smith pitched the eighth and allowed a solo home run to make it 7-5, but that would be as close as Seattle would get as Smith would finish the inning and Hector Rondon locking down the save in the ninth to finish off the win to split the short two-game series. Despite the win, the Astros experienced a loss, at least for the time-being, after Carlos Correa exited late in the game Wednesday after hurting his side on a swing at the plate and did not play the rest of the week.
Final Score: Mariners 5, Astros 7

Thursday, June 7th: 38-25 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 27-37 Rangers (Cole Hamels)

After a rain-delayed start, the Rangers struck first on Thursday night, getting an RBI single from Adrian Beltre off of Gerrit Cole to take a quick 1-0 lead. That score held for a few innings thanks to Cole rebounding from the first-inning run, and Cole Hamels holding Houston without a hit through three innings. The Astros got to Hamels the second time through the order, though, getting an RBI single from Jose Altuve to tie the game at 1-1 and a two-run home run by, you guessed it, Evan Gattis to put Houston up 3-1. The Astros held the lead well with Cole only allowing one hit after the two he allowed in the first, finishing six strong innings with eight strikeouts and only the one run. Gattis notched another RBI with a single in the sixth, making it 4-1 for Houston before Alex Bregman launched a solo home run in the top of the eighth to end Hamels' night and extend the lead to 5-1. Will Harris and Chris Devenski combined for the seventh inning and Brad Peacock pitched the eighth, all scoreless. Ken Giles came in with the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, and as has been typical in non-save situations for him recently, gave up a run before getting the final out of the win. 
Final Score: Astros 5, Rangers 2

Friday, June 8th: 39-25 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 27-38 Rangers (Doug Fister)

The Rangers briefly looked poised to take control of the game on Friday night when they took a 1-0 lead on Justin Verlander's very first pitch of the game. Instead, Houston answered back with a big four-run top of the second with RBIs from Marwin Gonzalez and Tony Kemp and a two-RBI double by George Springer. The Rangers trimmed the lead to one with a two-RBI double of their own in the third, making it 4-3, but that would be their last runs of the night. Verlander pitched six innings giving up the three runs while striking out nine, followed by Collin McHugh who pitched two strong innings then Will Harris who came in for the ninth in a non-save situation. It was a non-save situation because of Houston adding three insurance runs on a solo home run by Alex Bregman in the fifth and a two-run homer by Jose Altuve in the seventh, sending the Astros on to their fourth consecutive win and locking up the series win. 
Final Score: Astros 7, Rangers 3

Saturday, June 9th: 40-25 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 27-39 Rangers (Mike Minor)

Houston got the scoring going on Saturday night right in the top of the first with RBIs from Alex Bregman and Yuli Guriel to make it 2-0 early. That lead quickly turned into a tie game as Charlie Morton had a sporadic pitching performance, including four walks and two hit batters across the first two innings alone which set the Rangers up to tie the game 2-2. Morton ended up making it only three and two-thirds before the Astros made the call to the bullpen. Houston regained the lead on a solo home run from Max Stassi in the top of the fifth, but the Rangers tied things right back up in the bottom of the inning as Brad Peacock allowed a run during an extended relief appearance. It was George Springer in the top of the seventh that hit the difference maker, an RBI single to give the Astros the go-ahead run and make it 4-3. That score held thanks to work from Tony Sipp, Chris Devenski, and Hector Rondon, who got the save in the ninth. 
Final Score: Astros 4, Rangers 3

Sunday, June 10th: 41-25 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 27-40 Rangers (Matt Moore)

George Springer set the tone early on Sunday afternoon with a leadoff home run on the first pitch of the game. He was part of a surplus of offense that got Houston out to a 6-0 lead over the first two innings, including RBIs from Evan Gattis, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Yuli Gurriel. The 6-0 lead seemed like a perfect opportunity for Dallas Keuchel to relax and get back to his usual self instead of the recent performances where he melted down in the early innings and had to battle back. Instead, Keuchel watched as the Rangers chipped away at the six-run deficit and tagged him for six runs between the second and fifth innings. Tony Sipp was first out of the bullpen and recorded an inning of work between the end of the fifth and start of the sixth innings. In a surprising decision, Ken Giles was next out of the bullpen and finished the sixth inning and pitched the seventh as well. Gurriel got his second RBI of the game, this time a go-ahead solo home run to make it 7-6 Houston. Will Harris pitched the eighth and allowed the tying run to Texas to send the game to the ninth tied 7-7. In the top of the ninth, George Springer worked a leadoff walk, moved to second after an intentional walk to Altuve, moved to third on a flyout by Gurriel, then eventually scored on a balk call against Keone Kela, putting Houston up 8-7. Hector Rondon pitched the bottom of the ninth and got his second save in as many days, completing the four-game sweep and locking up Houston as the season series winners against the Rangers.
Final Score: Astros 8, Rangers 7

Summary: Even though the end result is what was expected, a solid winning week at 5-1, it probably didn't come the way many thought it would. Being without Carlos Correa for the four games in Arlington definitely hurt the Astros' chances, but they still came away with the clean sweep after a strong offensive showing and solid bullpen work to either backup strong starting pitching or bail out bad starting pitching. Speaking of bad starts, let's talk about Dallas Keuchel. I'm not sure anyone knows exactly what the reason is, but he has not been able to pitch his game effectively at all recently. He has undoubtedly become the weakest link in this rotation, and without getting bailed out on Sunday should've easily had two losses this week. I think he could turn things around quickly if it's not injury-related, but until it does, I'm on edge every time he takes the mound. Even though he's been the most notable, he's not the only one in this rotation who has missed a step. This rotation that was being thrown around as one of the best, possibly ever, has not been nearly as dominant in late May and early June as they were to start the year. Verlander and Cole still give great starts game-in and game-out, but the other three have been hit or miss, something that can't continue if Houston wants to go far this year. There's no need to panic, but it is time to start thinking critically about what this team is and if they could beat the league's best come October. Pitching aside, the offense heated things up this week, taking advantage of some weak spots of opponents and getting enough done to power through a somewhat easy week. Look for that to continue next week. The team also got Josh Reddick and Brian McCann back, and will likely have Correa back in the lineup any day, so there's a boost in performance by default with those guys back on the field. 

MVP of the Week - Hector Rondon: 

Let me just preface this section by saying that you could plug in any of the guys that were hot offensively this week like Bregman, Gurriel, Springer, or especially Altuve. Instead, I want to give the nod to Rondon, who was given the chance, at least this week, to be the closer for Houston and delivered big time. He earned all three saves in his opportunities this week while allowing just three hits and walking one. Sure, two of them were against the Rangers, but I don't think that should take away from a guy being able to come in during high-leverage situations and pull it out. If he can pitch like he did this week for the rest of the season, that's a great asset for the Astros to have going forward.

This Week:

  • Tue-Thu: (42-25) Astros @ (34-32) A's
  • Fri-Sat: (42-25) Astros @ (22-24) Royals

The Astros get another Monday off to start this week before continuing their road trip. They'll head to Oakland, where they have historically dominated, against the A's for three games in the middle of the week. The Astros will then head over to Kansas City for three games against the struggling Royals this weekend. Houston should continue to have success against these weaker opponents and come away with a winning week.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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