Kyle Tucker is crushing the baseball for Houston. Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images.
After a tough loss on Saturday, the Astros bounced back to beat the Los Angeles Angels Sunday afternoon 3-1. Houston has won back-to-back series and currently sits 6.5 games ahead of both the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners in the American League West. With 20 games remaining in the regular season, the Astros look to earn their 4th A.L. West title in five years, and make a deep run in the postseason.
Some players received the memo and are fine-tuning their skills as October approaches.
Kyle Tucker has been on fire as of late. Since coming off the injured list on August 24, the outfielder is 25 for 59 with 11 extra-base hits, including three home runs. One of those came on Sunday when Tucker hit the go-ahead homer off José Quijada in the bottom of the 5th inning.
"I've been seeing the ball really well and trying to hit it on the barrel and not chase pitches," Tucker said. "I am just trying to do my job and get on base and score some runs."
The Astros' outfielder is having a career year at the plate and has a slash line of .458/.552/.792 over his last seven games.
Another Astros' player having a great year is Lance McCullers Jr.
As I alluded to in my previous article, McCullers exceeded his career high for wins in a season with his 11th victory over the Mariners on September 6th. He didn't stop there, as the Astros' pitcher earned his 12th win of the season Sunday against the Angels.
In six innings of work, McCullers gave up one run on three hits with seven strikeouts. This is his third consecutive start in which he has allowed three runs or fewer.
"He pitched ahead in the count most of the time, and he used his fastball probably more than he had early in the count to get strike one," Houston manager Dusty Baker said. "He threw some outstanding breaking balls for strike three, and he threw some very good changeups. He had a good tempo going. He wasn't in trouble very much."
Baker will have some tough decisions to make with Houston's playoff rotation, but it can be assured McCullers will either be the ace of this staff, or the number two pitcher behind Zack Greinke once the postseason rolls around.
The final Astros' player having a career year is Yuli Gurriel. The first baseman is hitting .315 and is tied with teammate Michael Brantley for the second best batting average in Major League Baseball.
The 37-year-old slugger had a four-hit game on Sunday against the Angels and drove in the first run of the contest.
Gurriel has been a mainstay in this Astros' lineup all season, and looks to continue to give his team great at-bats in the middle of the order.
Injury Report: Brantley left Saturday's contest against the Angels with right knee soreness and is listed as day-to-day according to Baker. Houston will most likely play him sparingly until the playoffs start, with players such as Aledmys Diaz, Yordan Alvarez and Chas McCormick splitting time in left field.
The Astros will look to get both catcher Jason Castro and infielder Taylor Jones back soon, as both players are set to make rehab stints in Sugar Land this week.
Up Next: Houston starts a four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers for the final time this season. Jake Odorizzi (6-7) has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last four outings will take the mound Monday night against Spencer Howard (0-3).
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”