ASTROS REPORT

Astros overpower weak foes en route to perfect week with 6 straight wins

Dallas Keuchel appears to be back in form. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros had a great opportunity this week to put the disappointing week prior behind them and feast on some weak teams. They did so, and here's how:

Tuesday, July 3rd: 55-31 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 38-47 Rangers (Austin Bibens-Dirkx)

Houston got the week started with a two-out RBI double from Yuli Gurriel to get the scoring started in Arlington in the top of the first on Tuesday night. After an Evan Gattis walk, Josh Reddick hit a double off the top of the right-field wall missing a three-run home run by only a few feet. Instead, it scored Gurriel to make it an early 2-0 lead. Max Stassi, who took over primary catcher's duties this week with Brian McCann heading to the DL after undergoing a knee procedure, was hit by a pitch in the first inning to his throwing arm and did not return to the game. Tim Federowicz took over to catch the game for Dallas Keuchel, who was on fire the first two innings retiring all six batters in order including five strikeouts. Keuchel had plenty of run support; Josh Reddick added another run in the top of the third with a solo home run to make it 3-0, followed by Tony Kemp with a two-run homer later in the inning to make it 5-0 to pour it on Austin Bibens-Dirkz. Keuchel allowed his first hit and eventually first run in the bottom of the third, making it a 5-1 game. Keuchel had another rough inning in the fifth, giving up a double then an RBI single to allow the Rangers to trim Houston's lead to 5-2. Despite the two runs, Keuchel still finished with a strong night, going seven innings allowing the two runs on 5 hits, striking out 7, and getting 10 groundball outs. Chris Devenski was first out of the bullpen for the bottom of the eighth but got only one out before loading the bases, resulting in a call for Tony Sipp to face left-handed hitting Roughned Odor, who grounded into a fielder's choice which scored a run to make it 5-3. Hector Rondon came out next to get the final out of the inning with runners on first and third, which he eventually after a walk to load the bases then a strikeout to end the threat. Rondon was back out in the ninth for a multi-inning save, which he accomplished to start the week with a win.
Final Score: Astros 5, Rangers 3

Wednesday, July 4th: 56-31 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 38-48 Rangers (Mike Minor)

The Astros looked to be on their way to an Independence Day loss on July 4 with the Rangers getting a hold of Gerrit Cole early and tagging him with four runs over the first three innings including another home run allowed. Down 4-0, the offense got to work, starting with Josh Reddick getting a two-run homer in the top of the fourth, making it back-to-back games with homers. Alex Bregman trimmed the lead to one in the same inning with an RBI single, making it a 4-3 game. Yuli Gurriel tied the game in the next inning with a solo home run, erasing the early deficit and making it a new ballgame. Cole, after allowing the early runs, took 108 pitches to get through just five innings, setting up the bullpen to have an extended night. First out was Will Harris who worked around a couple of hits to get through the sixth. Next was Collin McHugh who continued his dominant work out of the bullpen this season and ate up three scoreless innings, leaving the game tied since Houston was unable to break the tie at the plate themselves. In the top of the 10th, the Astros finally got their first lead of the night on another RBI by Evan Gattis, a go-ahead sac fly to make it 5-4. Ken Giles pitched a strong bottom of the inning to notch another save on the year and complete another holiday comeback for the Astros.
Final Score: Astros 5, Rangers 4

Thursday, July 5th: 30-56 White Sox (Carlos Rodón) vs. 57-31 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Back at home on Thursday, the first game of the series with Chicago got off to a slow start on both sides with Carlos Rodón and Justin Verlander keeping the opposing offense at bay early. That changed in the bottom of the fifth, however, after a double by Alex Bregman setup a two-run bomb by Jose Altuve to give the Astros the 2-0 lead, giving Verlander some run support as he cruised along with just one hit through the first five innings. He would surrender that lead in the top of the sixth inning, allowing a solo home run and RBI double to tie the game at 2 apiece. Verlander was able to get through seven innings despite the two runs, finishing a strong night with 10 strikeouts. Chris Devenski was first out of the bullpen in the top of the eighth but surrendered a solo home run to give Chicago their first lead of the night at 3-2. That score held until the bottom of the ninth where a couple of pinch-hitters, Tony Kemp and Marwin Gonzalez, set up runners on first and third after a leadoff walk and single which George Springer capitalized for a slump-busting RBI single to tie the game. Alex Bregman worked a walk next to load the bases which finally set up the walk-off RBI single for Yuli Gurriel to keep the winning week going with a 4-3 victory.
Final Score: White Sox 3, Astros 4

Friday, July 6th: 30-57 White Sox (Reynaldo Lopez) vs. 58-31 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.)

After battling with Chicago in the series opener in a game that was closer than it should have been, Friday night's game went much more as expected. In the early part of the game, this was due to a terrific start by Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers had his curveball working fantastically, so much so that he had a no-hitter working through five innings, during which he was given a 3-0 lead on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the third and two-RBI double by Tim Federowicz in the fourth. The White Sox finally broke up the no-no in the top of the sixth, then got their first run of the night to make it 3-1. Other than the one run allowed, McCullers had a near-perfect start, going seven innings with just one run on three hits while striking out twelve, making it one of his most dominant starts of the year. After seeing their lead trimmed to two runs, the offense got back to work and put things out of reach with Evan Gattis hitting an RBI double in the seventh to make it 4-1 before launching a three-run homer in the eighth along with RBIs from Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, and Gurriel along with a run scoring on an error to make it 11-1. After being called from the bullpen for the eighth which he got through without any damage, Brad Peacock returned for the ninth and allowed three garbage-time runs before closing out the win.
Final Score: White Sox 4, Astros 11 

Saturday, July 7th: 30-58 White Sox (James Shields) vs. 59-31 Astros (Charlie Morton) 

Astros fans rejoiced as the news broke on Saturday morning: Jake Marisnick was sent down and the long-awaited call-up of Kyle Tucker had been made. He was immediately put in the lineup and made his debut on Saturday, joining a hot lineup that continued to put runs on the board that afternoon. They started with an RBI single from Max Stassi in the second to go up 1-0 before a three-run homer by Yuli Gurriel in the next inning made it 4-0. After a strong first three innings, Morton got into some trouble in the fourth, giving up the first two hits and run to the White Sox making it 4-1. Houston extended their lead to 6-1 in the bottom of the fifth on RBIs from Josh Reddick and Evan Gattis but would see that lead trimmed down to just one run with another bad inning from Charlie Morton who loaded the bases, gave up an RBI single, then a bases-clearing double to make it a 6-5 game in the top of the sixth. That would be as close as they would get to tying the game, though, with Alex Bregman knocking a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning making it 8-5. After striking out in his first three plate appearances, Tucker was able to record his first major league hit in the bottom of the seventh, before scoring on an RBI single by Marwin Gonzalez to make it 9-5. Chicago got a solo home run off of Ken Giles in the top of the eighth, but Houston answered right back with a three-run inning of their own with RBI singles from Max Stassi and Yuli Gurriel and an RBI-walk from Kyle Tucker, another first in his debut. The 12-6 score held after a scoreless ninth by Joe Smith gave Houston their fifth straight win. 
Final Score: White Sox 6, Astros 12

Sunday, July 8th: 30-59 White Sox (Lucas Giolito) vs. 60-31 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

After combining for 33 runs over the last two games, both teams were slowed down by good pitching on Sunday afternoon. Dallas Keuchel had a great start, working his usual method of inducing ground ball after ground ball to churn out innings and make opposing offense earn their runs. Lucas Giolito was having an equally good game, but that didn't stop Jose Altuve from rocketing a homer to left center to give Houston a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth. Chicago did finally get a run off of Keuchel, a sac fly in the top of the seventh to tie the game 1-1. That would be Keuchel's last inning, finishing with seven innings pitched, one earned run on six hits, and getting 17 of his 21 outs via ground ball. Yuli Gurriel led off the bottom of the seventh with a double, tagged up to third on a fly out by Josh Reddick, then scored on a perfectly placed bunt by Marwin Gonzalez to give Houston the lead back at 2-1. Collin McHugh kept that lead in the eighth, setting up Hector Rondon for the save in the ninth including two big strikeouts, extending the winning streak to six and completing the season series sweep of the White Sox. 
Final Score: White Sox 1, Astros 2

Summary: Even without Carlos Correa, the Astros rebounded from a rough week prior by having a perfect 6-0 week this week led by an overpowering offense and strong pitching to beat up on weaker teams. Though not fully back to World Series MVP form, George Springer was able to get some hits this week to hopefully turn the tide on his recent slump, while the other parts of the offense continue to produce runs on a regular basis and contribute to the league's best run differential at +188. They hopefully improved even a bit more this week by replacing a weak link in Jake Marisnick with Kyle Tucker. Tucker may need some time to get up to speed at the major league level, but he has all the fundamentals and track record in the minors that he'll be able to earn himself a spot in this already potent lineup. Keuchel continued to rebound from his early-season woes with two strong starts and wins this week, joined by the other starters who may have allowed a few runs but otherwise continued to show they can be the best rotation in the league. It's no surprise that five members of this team: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole are all going to represent Houston on the All-Star game roster. 

MVP of the Week - Yuli Gurriel

Gurriel had another highlight-reel week offensively, going 9 for 21 for a .429 average and getting a hit in all the six games this week. This raised his season average up to .303, while he also raised his season total of RBIs to 46 with 9 this week including the four-RBI game on Saturday. He continues to perform well in the cleanup spot while Correa is out, turning many RBI opportunities into runs for Houston.

This Week:

  • Mon-Thu: (50-40) A's @ (61-31) Astros
  • Fri-Sun: (40-52) Tigers @ (61-31) Astros

Houston will finish the first half of the season leading up to the All-Star break by completing their current homestand with a full week of games. First, the A's will come in for a four-game series to start the week, then the Tigers will face the Astros in a weekend series. Oakland has been on fire recently, winning 8 of their last 10 games and 16 of their last 20, so that four-game series might not be as easy as it appears considering how well the Astros typically play against the A's. The Tigers, on the other hand, have been struggling quite heavily recently which should allow Houston a motivation boost heading into the break. 

Charlie Morton helped create a lasting memory. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

By the time this story is out it will be a fact; Charlie Morton will have signed with the Tampa Bay Rays ending his tenure as a Houston Astro.

Going into free agency this off season, it was hard not to expect changes to come, especially with so many high profile Astros up for free agency. I fully expect Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzales to be gone, but losing Good Ol Uncle Chuck was a little surprising.

All things considered, the Astros bringing back Morton seemed to make sense. Keuchel is due for a big pay day, and all signs point to that being with another team. Lance McCullers, of course, will miss the 2019 season to recover from his Tommy John procedure. With another year of Cole and Verlander, and a promotion to McHugh, it seemed like Morton would slide back into a solid rotation.

That, as we all know now, was not the case as CFM agreed to a two year, $30 million dollar contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.

……….

Maybe I'm a masochist, but I spent last night re-watching the 2017 World Series highlights, Game 7 to be specific. The Astros were in complete control, up 5-0 after the second. A platoon of McCullers, Peacock, Liriano, and Devenski got them through five. Morton entered the game in the bottom of the sixth. On his very first pitch, he gave up a base hit to Joc Pederson. He then proceeded to give up a walk to Foresythe and a single to Ethier, allowing the Dodgers to score their first run of the game, it was 5-1. After facing six batters in the sixth inning , Charlie reminded us why we added the F to his name as he retired the next nine batters in a row to win the game and the 2017 World Series.

Morton's post game interview with Buster Olney was as haunting, and prophetic, as it comes.

"All this (adversity) has made me a better person, a better ball player. I appreciate that as much as this ( winning the WS). This is the epitome of what you can do in this game. Look at us. This is crazy. To go from Fenway Park, to beat the Yankees and now the Dodgers. It's extraordinary. It hasn't sunk in but I'm so grateful for all these guys, for all the fans in Houston. I hope everybody enjoyed every second of this."

When the team who suffered through pitching ailments all of the postseason needed a stellar pitching performance the most, Morton delivered. When a city that needed something to believe in after a historical hurricane caused monumental damage, Charlie Morton did not falter. In a city where it's easier to find a reason why our teams won't succeed, Morton was not going to allow anything to take this moment away from him, away from us.

As iconic as Joe Bucks " ground ball to the right side could do it" call was, the moment in which McCann rushed a shocked Morton will live in my head forever. Finally, it was over. The Astros had their championship. Charlie Morton had his World Series win. Houston had its hero.

Growing up, my father had a plethora of stories about his favorite moments in sports. I have listened to more stories about Luis Hernandez than I care to ever have. It is funny looking back now because I will be doing the same thing to my eventual children. When it comes time for me to share why I love sports so much, it will be hard for me to not start with Charlie Morton's performance in the 2017 World Series.

Morton gave the best two years of his career to the Astros, and through that helped make this team a championship city again. He will, without a doubt go down as a hero in Houston sports. More importantly, to me at least, Morton will go down as a member of my favorite team of all time, the 2017 Astros.

Goodbye, my friend. Thanks for the memories that will last a life time.

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