Astros pull away late to take ALDS Game 1

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: Astros take 1-0 ALDS lead with 6-2 win over Rays

Jose Altuve Batting
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Jose Altuve hits a two-run home run in ALDS Game 1

Although it started as a pitcher's duel Justin Verlander and the Astros would outlast the Rays and take Game 1 of the ALDS, 6-2. Jose Altuve had the hit of the day with his two-run home run to start the scoring, while Justin Verlander's dominant day on the mound earned him the win after seven shutout innings. Here is a quick recap of the game:

Final Score: Astros 6, Rays 2.

Series: HOU leads 1-0.

Winning Pitcher: Justin Verlander.

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Glasnow.

Verlander and Glasnow duel in the early innings

Justin Verlander didn't have the first at-bat you would have predicted to start the ALDS. He issued a five-pitch walk to Austin Meadows but was able to induce a double-play then a strikeout to end the inning. That would be the start of an early pitcher's duel, with Verlander and Tyler Glasnow keeping their opponents scoreless in the early goings.

The Astros had their chances in the second and third innings, getting two on in the bottom of the second, then loading the bases in the third, but Houston would strand all five runners. Verlander kept rolling along, allowing just his first hit of the afternoon in the top of the fifth before retiring the next three batters, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.

Astros break through in the fifth

Glasnow looked to be fading to start the bottom of the fifth, walking Josh Reddick on four pitches. He followed that with a three-pitch strikeout of George Springer, but Jose Altuve would put an end to Glasnow's day with a two-run home run to score the first runs of the day and give Houston a 2-0 lead.

Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman had back-to-back hits against Brendan McKay who was first out of Tampa Bay's bullpen, and they would come around to score later in the inning on a costly error by the Rays on a fly ball by Yuli Gurriel that went uncaught and doubled Houston's lead at 4-0.

Verlander finishes seven shutout innings as Astros tack on insurance

Verlander, meanwhile, was cruising along en route to another dominant playoff start on the mound. The hit he allowed in the top of the fifth would go down as his only of the day, paired with three walks, the only baserunners he allowed while notching eight strikeouts. His final line: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K.

In the bottom of the seventh, Alex Bregman walked for his second time in the game, then stole second to get into scoring position with two outs. That set up Yordan Alvarez, who recorded his first postseason RBI with a double, followed by Yuli Gurriel, who dropped the ball into right field for another RBI-double, extending Houston's lead to 6-0.

Bullpen finishes things off to take a 1-0 ALDS lead

Ryan Pressly took over for Verlander to pitch the top of the eighth but would have a shaky inning, allowing the Rays to score two runs and giving up four hits to trim the lead to 6-2 while getting just two outs. Will Harris was brought in to clean things up and get the final out of the inning.

Roberto Osuna was next out of Houston's bullpen to try and close out the four-run win. He did so, getting a scoreless inning to finish the game and give Houston a 1-0 lead in the ALDS.

Up Next: ALDS Game 2 is on Saturday with first pitch scheduled for a late 8:07 PM at Minute Maid Park. The pitching matchup will be 2019 Cy Young hopeful Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA in the regular season) for the Astros going up against 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell (6-8, 4.29 ERA in the regular season) for the Rays. After Game 2, the series moves to Tropicana Field for Game 3 and, if needed, Game 4.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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It's go time! Composite Getty Image.

96 games down, 66 games to go as the Astros tackle a fairly significant series in Seattle to open up the figurative second half of the season Friday night. It’s actually just over 40 percent of the schedule remaining. With the Astros having closed within one game of the Mariners in the American League West it’s the biggest series possible for them as the season resumes. But it’s not remotely make or break. Measuring by run differential the Astros should already be out front. They have outscored their opponents by 49 runs while Seattle is just plus-19. The actual standings can be explained in no small part by this comparison: in one-run games the Astros are a pitiful 7-17 while the Mariners are 19-14.

The spectrum of outcomes this weekend ranges from the Astros sweeping and leaving the Emerald City two games on top, to getting swept and heading down the coast to Oakland four games behind. Of note, the Mariners beat the Astros in five of the seven meetings to date this season. So if Seattle wins this series it clinches the season series and playoff tiebreaker should a spot come down to it. The Astros and Mariners have another series to come after this one, three games in Houston the final week of the regular season.

Trade deadline looming

What may be even more important than this weekend’s games is who gets what done between now and the July 30 trade deadline. With Justin Verlander clearly not close to returning, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss both performance question marks, and both Ronel Blanco and Hunter Brown being asked to handle unprecedented workloads for them, the Astros’ rotation needs obvious fortification. The Mariners’ rotation is second to none in the American League and their bullpen is good. Seattle’s lineup is atrocious. The Chicago White Sox are on pace to be one of the worst teams of all-time. The ChiSox’ offense is a joke with a team batting average of .220. The Mariners’ team average is .219. Only the White Sox and pathetic Marlins are scoring fewer runs per game than the M’s.

The Mariners have 11 players with at least 100 at bats this season. Eight of them have an OPS of .690 or lower. Cal Raleigh has the highest at .734. The Astros have 12 guys with at least 100 at bats including Jose Abreu. Abreu, Chas McCormick, and Mauricio Dubon are the only .690 or worse OPS guys. Kyle Tucker is the Astros’ OPS leader by a significant margin, .979 to Yordan Alvarez’s .912. What’s that you ask? Who is this Kyle Tucker? 35 missed games and counting for “Tuck” with his leg bone bruise, with return not imminent. T-Mobile Park is a notably better pitchers’ park than is Minute Maid Park, but not enough to shrug off the Mariners’ offensive ineptitude. The Mariners team payroll is more than 100 million dollars below the Astros’ payroll. The Mariners have the clearly better farm system from which to deal. If Seattle doesn’t add offense, its ownership and front office will deserve a continued fade in the second half, on top of the Mariners’ 8-15 gimp into the All-Star break.

Don't forget about the Rangers

With the Astros and Mariners going at it this weekend with the division lead in the balance, a reminder that this is not a two-team race. The Texas Rangers rallying to take the final two games at Minute Maid Park last weekend sent up a flare that the reigning World Series Champions are definitely still in the picture. The Rangers sit four games behind the Astros, five back of the Mariners. If the Rangers manage to win their series in Arlington with the Orioles this weekend, they are guaranteed to gain ground on at least one team ahead of them. The Astros-Rangers season series sits tied at five wins apiece with three games left, it will be decided in Arlington the first week of August. The Rangers and Mariners play seven more times.

In broader view, as measured by opponents’ records, the Astros have the toughest remaining schedule among the three. Among the 30 big league clubs the Rangers have the fourth easiest slate left, the Mariners have the fifth easiest, the Astros have the 15th easiest. If the Astros ultimately are not to win the West, there is the Wild Card race to keep in mind. The Astros are seven games behind the Yankees, four behind the Twins, and three and a half back of the Red Sox. Those three currently hold the Wild Card spots. The Astros are also a game and a half behind the Royals. The Astros have already lost the season series and tiebreakers to the Yankees, Twins, and Royals. The Astros and Red Sox have all six of their meetings yet to come.

Remembering Ken Hoffman

This is my first column since the passing last Sunday of my friend and eventual colleague Ken Hoffman. I originally learned of Ken’s quirkiness and wit through his columns at the Houston Post. He was a big sports fan. Our friendship was driven in part by our shared passion for tennis. We played probably more than a thousand times over nearly 20 years. Tennis and baseball were Ken’s two favorite sports. His two favorite athletes were Roger Federer and Jose Altuve. Well, after he and his wife Erin’s son Andrew, who was a pitcher on Trinity University’s 2016 NCAA Division Three national championship-winning team.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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