Astros weekly report

Astros have a disappointing 2-4 week as division lead shrinks

Astros have a disappointing 2-4 week as division lead shrinks
Marwin Gonzalez was a lone bright spot in a rough week. Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Astros had to combat multiple injuries and setbacks this week to try and keep their momentum going and hold down an AL West lead. Here's how things unfolded:

Monday, August 6th: 71-42 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 57-56 Giants (Dereck Rodriguez)

To kick off the week on Monday night in San Francisco, the two teams received solid performances from their starting pitchers, both going the first five innings scoreless. The Giants would break the tie with a two-out solo homer off of Charlie Morton to go up 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth. Despite the run, Morton would finish with a great line, going seven strong with just the one run allowed on three hits, suffering from an injury-laden lineup unable to give him run support to get him a win. Roberto Osuna made his controversial debut in the bottom of the eighth, a quick scoreless inning to keep the score at 1-0.  The Astros would work two walks in the top of the ninth, setting up Marwin Gonzalez for a huge three-run homer to put the Astros up 3-1 and make the difference in the game. Hector Rondon came on in the bottom of the ninth for the save, which he completed to start the week off with a surprising come-from-behind win for Houston. 
Final Score: Astros 3, Giants 1

Tuesday, August 7th: 72-42 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 57-57 Giants (Madison Bumgarner) 

In the afternoon game on Tuesday, the Giants once again struck first, getting a run on two hits off of Dallas Keuchel in the bottom of the second, going up 1-0 early. Outside of that early run, Keuchel matched up with Madison Bumgarner well, going six strong innings allowing just the one run on three hits while striking out five, while Bumgarner kept the Astros off the board for seven innings. Once Bumgarner was out, the Astros finally mounted some offense in the eighth, getting a leadoff double from Marwin Gonzalez who would come around to score on a two-run home run by Tyler White to go up 2-1. They'd hold on to that lead thanks to another good outing from the bullpen including Tony Sipp and Joe Smith combining for the seventh, Collin McHugh and Ryan Pressly combining for the eighth, then Hector Rondon notching another save in the ninth to complete the mini-sweep in San Fransisco. 
Final Score: Astros 2, Giants 1

Thursday, August 9th: 65-50 Mariners (James Paxton) vs. 73-42 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Back at home Thursday night, things could not have gone much worse for Justin Verlander to start the game. Seattle jumped all over him, scoring three runs in the first and three runs in the second including three home runs to go up 6-0 after just two innings. To make matters worse, Verlander would get ejected from the game allegedly arguing a balk call against him during that span. That set up a long night for the bullpen, which other than Will Harris who allowed two more runs in the sixth, did well to keep the Mariners at bay the rest of the night. Houston's offense didn't go down without a fight, getting two runs from a single by Marwin Gonzalez in the third, two from a Tony Kemp single in the sixth, then two runs from Tyler White, one on an RBI double in the seventh and a solo home run in the ninth. Though they chipped away, the big lead from Seattle would be too much to overcome, allowing the Mariners to take the opening game of the series.
Final Score: Mariners 8, Astros 6

Friday, August 10th: 66-50 Mariners (Mike Leake) vs. 73-43 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Friday night's game started out as a pitching battle, with both starting pitchers going through the first four innings scoreless. Gerrit Cole was cruising, getting inning after inning of quick outs, putting him in a great pitch count throughout the game. He would finally get some run support in the fifth, an RBI single from Tony Kemp to start the scoring, followed immediately by an RBI double by Alex Bregman to make it 2-0. Seattle would answer right back, though, with two runs of their own off of Cole in the top of the sixth, tying the game 2-2. Cole looked to bounce back and still be in control, getting through an easy seventh and heading back to the mound for the eighth still with a low pitch count. He would allow back-to-back one-out hits, though, prompting a call to the bullpen for Ryan Pressly. Pressly would hit his first batter, loading the bases to set up a two-RBI double to give Seattle a 4-2 lead and give Cole two more earned runs. The Mariners would tack on one more before the inning was done, going up 5-2 which would be the final after Houston would go hitless in the last two innings.
Final Score: Mariners 5, Astros 2

Saturday, August 11th: 67-50 Mariners (Wade LeBlanc) vs. 73-44 Astros (Charlie Morton)

Down 2-0 in the four-game weekend series with Seattle, the Astros would look to keep a split in play on Saturday night. Tyler White helped the cause, keeping his recent hot streak going with a two-RBI single to put Houston up 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning. After an easy first three innings for Morton and a quick double play to get two outs in the fourth, the Mariners would string together four consecutive two-out hits to score three runs and take a 3-2 lead. Morton would bounce back and finish six innings, but the damage was done, and too much for Houston's poor offense at home to overcome, as they would be held scoreless over the final seven innings of the game, allowing the Mariners to lock up the series win and keep chipping away at the AL West lead.
Final Score: Mariners 3, Astros 2

Sunday, August 12th: 68-50 Mariners (Erasmo Ramirez) vs. 73-45 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) 

Looking to avoid the four-game sweep, the Astros looked to get some offense going and get another good start from Dallas Keuchel to end the week on a high note. Instead, they found themselves in a 1-0 hole in the second inning after a leadoff walk and passed ball resulted in a run scoring on an RBI single. Houston had their chances, including loading the bases with no outs in the bottom of the fifth but would come out empty handed after a strikeout by Kyle Tucker and double play grounded in to by Martin Maldonado. Despite the one unearned run in the second, Keuchel was looking sharp, getting a ton of groundballs and keeping his pitch count under control through six innings. Keuchel was back out in the seventh with his pitch count nearing 100 pitches, and though he'd get through the inning and finish with 112 pitches, the Mariners tagged him with a solo homer to extend their lead to 2-0. Keuchel would finish with seven innings, two runs on six hits, five strikeouts, and in typical Keuchel fashion twelve groundball outs. The Astros offense threatened again in the bottom of the eighth, getting the first two batters on with no outs, and after an out finally got on the board with an RBI single by Alex Bregman, cutting the lead in half at 2-1. Carlos Correa was next and poked a ball into right field on a check swing that scored the tying run, and also made it his first hit in his three games back from the DL. Evan Gattis was up after Correa and came through with a sac fly to give the Astros their first lead of the game, 3-2. They took the lead to the top of the ninth, giving the ball to Hector Rondon for another save opportunity, but down to their last out the Mariners tied the game on a solo home run. Unable to walk it off in the bottom of the inning, the game went to extras, where the Mariners would get the go-ahead run off of Roberto Osuna in the tenth on their way to the win.
Final Score: Mariners 4, Astros 3

Summary

After starting the week strong with two clutch wins for the two-game sweep of the Giants, the Astros returned home only to get swept in four games by the Mariners. All told, a 2-4 week with Oakland and Seattle nipping at Houston's heels is putting the Astros in a much different situation than they were last year when they locked up the division in mid-September. There is still a lot of baseball games to be played, and the lineup this week was far from the best Houston will put out this year, but you still expect the Astros to at least get a couple of wins against the Mariners at home. One good thing that came out of the games at home this weekend was Carlos Correa's return to the lineup. Other than his lucky check-swing RBI for his one hit, he has not yet contributed much at the plate, but it has definitely been an improvement on the defensive side to have him back at shortstop. He'll get his timing back and be contributing to the offense soon enough, but it just goes to show you that missing time and getting players out of their rhythm takes time to overcome. Because of that, it's becoming more and more important to get Altuve back on the field as soon as he's able because, aside from the obvious immediate concern of the dwindling AL West lead, they're going to need all their guys firing on all cylinders for September and hopefully deep into October. 

Co-MVPs of the Week: Marwin Gonzalez & Tyler White

The offense this week was definitely disappointing as a whole for the week, but two guys that did their part were Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler White. Gonzalez went 9-for-24 for a .375 average with five RBIs including the clutch three-run homer that won the game on Monday. White was also in the mix going 6-for-21 on the week and driving in six runs including two home runs. The duo combined to drive in eleven of Houston's eighteen runs this week. 

This Week:

  • Tue-Wed: (63-55) Rockies @ (73-46) Astros
  • Fri- Sun: (73-46) Astros @ (70-48) A's

The Astros will have a day off Monday before two more games at home, a two-game series against the Rockies who are in the mix of the highly-contested NL West, sitting just 1.5 games back of the Dodgers who they just took 3 out of 4 from over the weekend. The Astros and Rockies split the first two games of this four-game season series in Colorado just a few weeks ago. Houston gets another day off on Thursday to travel to Oakland where they will face the A's for a weekend series that could potentially be for the AL West lead. The A's have been on a tear recently, winning 8 of their last 10. The Astros will have to pull a winning week out, and ideally, a series win in Oakland, in order to turn the tide on recent struggles and build some momentum. 

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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