ASTROS REPORT

Astros finish hot first half of season and head into All-Star break with disappointing week

Alex Bregman is playing at a very high level. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Astros looked to cap off a hot start to the season with a strong winning week to take them into the All-Star break. However, things did not go as planned, and here's why:

Monday, July 9th: 50-40 A's (Frankie Montas) vs. 61-31 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

The week got under way on Monday night with a pitcher's duel. Gerrit Cole was dominant, going six innings while giving up just three hits and getting yet another double-digit strikeout game with eleven. Unfortunately for Houston's offense, Frankie Montas was equally dominant for Oakland, also giving up just three hits during six innings. The A's would win the battle of the bullpens, with two of their relievers combining for the final three innings, completing the shutout of the Astros. For Houston, it was Brad Peacock and Will Harris allowing the two runs, both to Stephen Piscotty, that made the difference in the low scoring game that gave the Astros a loss to start the week.
Final Score: A's 2, Astros 0

Tuesday, July 10th: 51-40 A's (Sean Manaea) vs. 61-32 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Tuesday's game started out as many would have predicted, then ended in a bizarre way on many levels. It was Justin Verlander providing the expected outcome early; a strong pitching performance. Verlander went six innings during which he gave up just three hits and struck out six. That appeared to put him in line for the win, with Alex Bregman homering in the first, George Springer hitting two RBI singles, one in the second and one in the fourth, then Bregman getting his second homer of the game in the seventh to make it 4-0. Chris Devenski and Joe Smith took care of business in the seventh and eighth innings, setting up what should've been an easy end to the game for Ken Giles in the ninth. Instead, Giles struggled in another non-save situation, allowing three consecutive singles and a run before recording an out. That resulted in A.J. Hinch coming to relieve him, to which Giles appeared to share some colorful displeasure with Hinch's decision. Hector Ronon was out next but would be unable to clean up the mess and allowed Oakland to tie the game 4-4. The game headed to extras, where the A's looked to have their comeback complete with a solo homer in the top of the eleventh to take their first lead at 5-4. Houston came back to life in the bottom of the inning, starting with a leadoff walk by Josh Reddick who moved to third on a single by Kyle Tucker, then scored on a groundout by Tony Kemp to tie the game at 5-5. With the winning run on second, George Springer flew out, leaving it up to Alex Bregman. What happened next was one of the weirdest baseball plays, especially one to end a game, I've ever seen. Alex Bregman hit what appeared to be a foul ball, bouncing mere inches in front of the plate, hitting the ground in foul territory, then rolling back fair, just in front of the plate. Jonathan Lucroy picked it up but while reaching to get the easy tag on Bregman to end the inning, instead lost the ball, resulting in Bregman taking off for first. Lucroy lasered the ball towards first but the ball clipped the edge of Bregman's helmet, sending the ball down the first base line, allowing Tucker to score to end the game on a walk-off error.
Final Score (11 Innings): A's 5, Astros 6

Wednesday, July 11th: 51-41 A's (Chris Bassitt) vs. 62-32 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.)

Oakland recovered well from the disappointing night on Tuesday by taking advantage of a lackluster start by Lance McCullers on Wednesday. The A's scored three runs off of him in the top of the first, two on a double and one on a sac fly to put Houston down 3-0 early. That lead doubled in the fourth on a three-run home run, giving Oakland a commanding 6-0 lead. McCullers would finish the fourth inning, but that would be it for him in a disappointing night with six earned runs. Yuli Gurriel gave the Astros some signs of life with a two-RBI single in the bottom of the fourth, then Tyler White hit a solo homer in the fifth to trim Oakland's lead to 6-3. The A's would stop Houston from getting any closer than that, though, with four shutout innings by their bullpen during which Oakland extended the lead with runs in the sixth and ninth off of Brad Peacock and Cionel Perez, a prospect called up to take a roster spot in the bullpen after Ken Giles was sent packing to Fresno after his explosion on Tuesday night. 
Final Score: A's 8, Astros 3

Thursday, July 12th: 52-41 A's (Trevor Cahill) vs. 62-33 Astros (Charlie Morton)

The Astros looked to be in a position to get the win on Thursday and split the series after going up 4-0. It was Alex Bregman getting the scoring started in the third with a two-RBI double, then Tony Kemp added two of his own on a homer in the fourth. Charlie Morton had been doing well early, allowing just two hits through the first four innings, but once again struggled at the end of a start, giving up three runs to allow Oakland to trim the lead to one before ending his short day. From there it was the battle of the bullpens as the 4-3 Houston lead held until late in the game. It was Chris Devenski having an off day which opened the door for the A's to complete their comeback, getting three runs in the top of the eighth while Houston's bats were held in check the rest of the way, giving Oakland the series win with three games to one. 
Final Score: A's 6, Astros 4

Friday, July 13th: 40-55 Tigers (Mike Fiers) vs. 62-34 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

Alex Bregman gave Mike Fiers a warm welcome back to Houston with a two-run homer to kick off the scoring in the series opener on Friday Night. Yuli Gurriel added to that lead by converting yet another runner in scoring position with an RBI single in the bottom of the third, making it a 3-0 lead. Dallas Keuchel, despite working around several hits, was able to get another high-quality start, finishing six innings of shutout baseball including working out of a one-out, bases loaded jam in the sixth with a popout and groundout to keep the shutout going. Tony Sipp was first out of the bullpen and threw a scoreless seventh, then Brad Peacock completed the eighth and held the three-run lead. Despite getting runners on the corners with no outs in the bottom of the eighth, Houston would be unable to add any insurance runs, but they wouldn't be needed as Hector Rondón would come in and work around a two-out walk to get the save in the ninth inning to complete the shutout win.
Final Score: Tigers 0, Astros 3

Saturday, July 14th: 40-56 Tigers (Michael Fulmer) vs. 63-34 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Gerrit Cole was activated off of the bereavement list after the game Friday night, putting him back on the roster for his start on Saturday, and sending Jake Marisnick back down to AAA (again). Cole was given an early 2-0 lead to work with after a sac fly from Yuli Gurriel and RBI bloop single by Josh Reddick in the bottom of the first. George Springer and Alex Bregman doubled that to 4-0 with RBIs in the bottom of the second, then Marwin Gonzalez extended it to 5-0 with an RBI single in the bottom of the third. Michael Fulmer had his only inning without a run in the bottom of the fourth, but allowed back-to-back home runs to Reddick and Evan Gattis in the bottom of the fifth, ending his day early with seven earned runs and leaving the Tigers in a 7-0 hole. During all that offense, Gerrit Cole quietly got through the first five innings with no runs and eight strikeouts. After getting two outs in the sixth, he would allow Detroit's first run of the day on an RBI double, ending his day with Joe Smith coming in for the final out of that inning. Chris Devenski was next out of the bullpen and threw two perfect innings with two strikeouts, during which Tyler White knocked in two more runs on a homer in the bottom of the seventh. Cionel Perez received some more major league experience with a quick ninth inning to close out the lopsided win. 
Final Score: Tigers 1, Astros 9

Sunday, July 15th: 40-57 Tigers (Francisco Liriano) vs. 64-34 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Justin Verlander's former teammates on the Tigers did not do him any favors on Sunday, handing him a disappointing end to the first half of the season. It was a weird start for Verlander, who looked absolutely dominant in some innings as he finished with twelve strikeouts, but also looked completely pedestrian in a couple of spots that were costly. In the second inning, Verlander allowed a two-run homer then sac fly to give Detroit an early 3-0 lead. He then gave up three more homers across the fifth and sixth innings before his day was over. Houston was able to get two runs of their own during that period with Yuli Gurriel scoring unconventionally twice, once during a slow double play and later on a wild pitch. Detroit's bullpen held Houston's offense at bay through the rest of the game, holding on to the 6-2 lead until the bottom of the ninth where Alex Bregman hit a leadoff double then tagged twice on fly outs to score before the game was finished off.
Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 3

Summary

Despite a great first half of the season when looking at the whole picture, this last week was a disappointing way to end it. The A's have been nearly unstoppable recently, but the Astros still can't let a team take three of four against them at home. The loss on Sunday can be blamed on Verlander's poor start, but that series against the Tigers still should have been a clean sweep. A 3-4 losing week to go into the break is not the most motivating way to refresh the mental game to prepare for the big push to the end of the season. The good news is, Houston's rotation is healthy, and other than a few bad starts here or there, appear to be on the rise. Carlos Correa should rejoin the team healthy and rested, which will put another key piece back in the lineup and defense. The team deserves a few days off, they've had a solid start to the year, and as long as they keep playing their game and stay healthy, they've got nothing to worry about until October. 

MVP of the Week - Alex Bregman: 

Bregman continued his hot summer this week with another good stretch at the plate. Bregman had a hit in every game this week, finishing 10 for 26 over the seven games for a .385 average while driving in seven runs including three homers. It's still extremely early in Bregman's career, but I'd be much more surprised if he doesn't turn into a star than if he does. 

Honorable Mention - Yuli Gurriel: Gurriel had a great week himself, including extending his hitting streak to twelve games, raising his season average to .310, and getting five RBIs over the six games he played this week.

This Week: 

  • Monday: 2018 MLB Home Run Derby
  • Tuesday: 2018 MLB All-Star Game
  • Fri-Sun: (64-35) Astros @ (49-48) Angels

Bregman will be one of the eight contestants for the home run derby on Monday night in Washington, D.C. Not only will he represent the Astros, he will represent the whole American League since the other seven players all come from the National League. Bregman, along with starter Jose Altuve, reserve George Springer, and pitchers Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and recently added Charlie Morton, will represent Houston on Tuesday night for the 2018 All-Star Game. The regular season will resume this weekend, with the Astros heading to Los Angeles for a weekend series against the Angels. 

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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