Astros get Altuve back and win five straight to maintain division lead

Marwin Gonzalez had a big week. Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

With the Oakland A's hot on their heels, the Astros needed a big week in the worst way to ensure they stayed on top of the AL West. Here's how the week shaped up: 

Monday, August 20th: 75-49 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 71-54 Mariners (Felix Hernandez)

Marwin Gonzalez started the week with a bang, getting a solo home run in the top of the first on Monday night to give Houston a 1-0 lead. Seattle would answer back with a strong first inning of their own, scoring a run on an error and sac fly to take a 2-1 lead off of Gerrit Cole. Houston would take the lead back with a big third inning including two more RBIs for Marwin Gonzalez on a two-run double and another run scoring on a wild pitch, making it 4-2. Seattle would trim the lead to one run with an RBI double in the fourth, then tie the game in the sixth. The game remained locked up in the 4-4 tie until the bottom of the eighth when Robinson Cano got ahold of Collin McHugh for a three-run homer which would power the Mariners to the win with Houston unable to put anything together in the top of the ninth. 
Final Score: Astros 4, Angels 7

Tuesday, August 21st: 75-50 Astros (Brad Peacock) vs. 72-54 Mariners (Nick Vincent)

Tuesday night's game marked the long-awaited return of 2017 MVP Jose Altuve to the Astros lineup. It was a bullpen game for both teams, with the missing rotation spot for Lance McCullers being filled by Brad Peacock who started the game opposite of Mariners reliever Nick Vincent. Peacock, likely on a pitch count, was able to get through five outs before Framber Valdez made his MLB debut out of the bullpen. Valdez would get the last out of the second before Houston's offense scored first on a Carlos Correa sac fly to take a 1-0 lead. The Mariners would tie the game with a runner from third scoring on a passed ball in the next inning, but Houston would score two more, a solo home run by Josh Reddick in the fourth and an RBI single for Yuli Gurriel in the sixth to give Valdez some run support. Other than the one unearned run scoring on the passed ball, Valdez did great in his debut, throwing four and one-third innings with just two hits, one walk, and four strikeouts. That would earn him his first win as Joe Smith would pitch the seventh before Roberto Osuna took over in the eighth. Osuna allowed one run but held the Mariners there, leaving Houston with a one-run lead Hector Rondon held on to in the ninth for the save. Altuve went 0-for-3 with a walk in his return. 
Final Score: Astros 3, Mariners 2

Wednesday, August 22nd: 76-50 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 72-55 Mariners (Marco Gonzalez)

Wednesday afternoon's game was all Houston early, with the Astros taking a commanding 8-0 lead over the first four innings with runs scoring on a wild pitch, RBI triple from Tyler White, RBI singles from Tony Kemp, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve, a sac fly from Carlos Correa, and two RBIs for Martin Maldonado, a single in the second and double in the fourth. Nelson Cruz would get the Mariners on the board with a solo home run off of Charlie Morton in the bottom of the fourth, but Martin Maldonado would get his third RBI of the day and bring the lead back to eight runs with a solo home run of his own in the fifth, bringing him a triple shy of the cycle. The momentum quickly shifted Seattle's way, however, after an RBI from Robinson Cano in the bottom of the fifth sparked their offense to go on and score five runs in the bottom of the sixth off of Charlie Morton and Joe Smith, trimming the eight-run lead down to just two. The next three pitchers out of the bullpen for Houston would keep the Mariners at seven runs, with Ryan Pressley throwing another solid inning in the seventh, and Hector Rondon throwing a shutout eighth before Tyler White hit a solo homer in the top of the ninth to make it 10-7. Newly named closer Roberto Osuna took over for the save in the ninth, which he accomplished to give Houston the series win in the offensive-heavy game.
Final Score: Astros 10, Mariners 7

Friday, August 24th: 77-50 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 63-65 Angels (Andrew Heaney)

Much like Wednesday, Friday night's series opener with the Angels in Anaheim was dominated by the Astros offense early. Jose Altuve got things started in the top of the third with his first home run since returning off the DL, putting Houston up 1-0. The Astros would then load the bases in the top of the fifth, setting up Marwin Gonzalez for a huge grand slam to extend their lead to 5-0. That would provide plenty of run support for Dallas Keuchel who pitched a great game getting through the first six innings with just three hits and no runs. Carlos Correa would give him one more run of support with a solo home run in the top of the seventh, making it 6-0. Keuchel would come back out in the seventh and despite allowing a two-run homer to cut the lead to 6-2, still finished the inning to cap off his strong night. Martin Maldonado extended Houston's lead to 7-2 with an RBI single in the top of the eighth, but the Angels would get the run right back in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single off of Collin McHugh. Tyler White kept the runs going for Houston in the top of the ninth with a two-RBI double to make it a six-run lead at 9-3, which would hold to the end with Will Harris throwing a scoreless ninth. 
Final Score: Astros 9, Angels 3

Saturday, August 25th: 78-50 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 63-66 Angels (Jaime Barria)

The Astros picked right up on Saturday where they left off on Friday with Alex Bregman starting the game off with a double before coming around to score as the first run of the game on an RBI-single from Altuve to start a three-run first inning to start Saturday night's game off strong with other RBIs from Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel. Gurriel added a second RBI in the top of the third to extend Houston's lead to 4-0. Shohei Ohtani came through for the Angels in the bottom of the fourth for the Angels with a two-run homer to cut the lead in half and make it a 4-2 game. The Angels would get another run closer and give Justin Verlander his third earned run of the night in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI triple to cut the lead down to one run at 4-3. That's as close as they would get, though, as Houston would go on to double their runs in the top of the eighth including a solo home run by Marwin Gonzalez, an RBI for Bregman, and two runs scoring on an error. Despite a little tension with some hit batters along the way, the 8-3 score would be the final with Pressley, Osuna, and Joe Smith each pitching hitless, scoreless innings to wrap up the win and clinch a winning series in Anaheim.
Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 3

Sunday, August 26th: 79-50 Astros (Framber Valdez) vs. 63-67 Angels (Felix Pena)

After coming out of the bullpen on Tuesday in Seattle for his first major league appearance, Framber Valdez was given the nod on Sunday to make his first career start. After throwing two hitless innings, Valdez received some run support from  Correa who hit a two-run single with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the third.  Gonzalez was next and added another two-out run with an RBI single to extend the lead to 3-0. The game would stay at 3-0 until the bottom of the fifth when the Angels were able to give Valdez his first earned run on an RBI groundout to make it 3-1. That would end the day for Valdez, who put up a strong start with five innings of one-run baseball on three hits, three walks, and three strikeouts. Peacock took over in the sixth and threw two scoreless innings with just one hit and three strikeouts to keep the game at 3-1. Rondon resumed his eighth-inning setup role in the eighth, working around a two-out single to keep the Angles two runs back. That set up closer  Osuna for another save opportunity which he converted to make it five straight wins for Houston. 
Final Score: Astros 3, Angels 1


Houston took care of business this week, going 5-1 overall and getting a five-game win streak after getting Altuve back in the lineup. They needed those wins because even now the A's are right there at 1.5 games back. There's no question this team, when healthy, can match up with anyone, and with Altuve back they are one step closer to being back at full-strength. George Springer, other than a pinch-hit appearance at the end of Sunday's game, was out this week, but even without him Altuve being back sparked the offense into having a strong performance. Springer is reported to be back in the lineup in tomorrow's game against the A's, which would mark the first game in quite a while that the true top four of the lineup, Springer, Bregman, Altuve, and Correa were all healthy and in the lineup together. Despite still missing Lance McCullers and Chris Devenski on the pitching side, both the rotation and the bullpen have been covering things well, or at least well enough to still close out wins after the offense provides them enough runs of support. As I said a few weeks ago, the team getting healthy and hot at the end of August could be a perfect time, because it gives them a full month of baseball to fine-tune for the playoffs, which as long as they can keep Oakland behind them, should be an interesting playoffs to watch. The question this week will be can the Astros finally translate their success on the road to a dominant stretch of games at home because they have some big games this week at the juice box. 

MVP of the Week - Marwin Gonzalez

Gonzalez has been on fire in August, which continued this week in the games against the Mariners and Angels. Marwin went 10-for-26 this week with 10 RBIs and three home runs including the big grand slam against the Angels. That brings him up to 18 RBIs and 8 homers just in the month of August, with a few more days ago to add to that total. He's been a force at the plate, which has been huge while the offense has had to deal with injuries recently. 

This Week

  • Mon-Wed: (79-52) A's @ (80-50) Astros
  • Thu-Sun: (63-68) Angels @ (80-50) Astros

The Astros will continue their stretch of games against AL West opponents, however this week all the games will be at home instead of on the road. To start the week, the Astros will have a big series against the second-place A's to try to maintain or extend a lead over them in their last meeting of the regular season. Then, the Astros will face off another time against the Angels, a four-game weekend series as they face each other for seven of their last ten games. The series with the A's will be the most important, but Houston has to keep winning their series down the stretch, and improve their winning percentage at home, to keep the A's and possibly Mariners from catching them. 

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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