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.
- 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.
With a new season on the horizon, the Astros have high hopes for 2024 after coming just one game shy of being in the World Series for three consecutive seasons.
If Houston wants to get back to the Fall Classic in 2024, they're going to have to rely on their pitching. Owner Jim Crane believes the club has 8 starting pitchers when Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. return mid-season.
Which allows several of the starters to move to the bullpen and provide even more depth. Add those guys to Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader and you have a recipe for success.
Check out the video above as ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham goes through the entire staff and makes his case for the Astros having the best pitching staff in baseball.
You can listen to The Killer B's with Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank every weekday on ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 from 3 pm - 6 pm!