ASTROS REPORT

Astros post another losing week, cling to small division lead

Astros post another losing week, cling to small division lead
Justin Verlander got win No. 200. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Astros tried to put a disappointing week prior behind them to regain some momentum and keep their AL West lead from shrinking away. It did not go as planned:

Tuesday, August 14th: 63-55 Rockies (German Marquez) vs. 73-46 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Justin Verlander took the mound to start the week on Tuesday night in search of the 200th win of his career. He looked to be in good position to get it, striking out nine batters through the first five innings without allowing a run and finally getting a run from the offense by way of an RBI single from Josh Reddick in the bottom of the fifth. The Rockies would finally get ahold of Verlander in the sixth, however, getting a two-run homer to take a 2-1 lead. Verlander still finished with a great line, six strong innings of two-run baseball with eleven strikeouts. Unfortunately, with the offense unable to answer the momentum shifting to Colorado, Verlander would get a loss instead of the milestone win. After the two-run homer in the sixth, Colorado scored three more runs: an RBI double off of Collin McHugh in the seventh, a solo home run off of Brad Peacock in the eighth, and an RBI single off of Will Harris in the ninth, making it four consecutive innings the Rockies were able to score runs in. The loss made it five straight for Houston and extended a lengthy home losing streak.
Final Score: Rockies 5, Astros 1

Wednesday, August 15th: 64-55 Rockies (Tyler Anderson) vs. 73-47 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Maybe a result of Springer being cleared to come off the DL for the weekend series, or Altuve fielding and hitting batting practice on the field, but something was definitely different about the Astros on Wednesday night. With Cole starting things off with three consecutive strikeouts to start the game, the offense finally came through with a big inning in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with no outs to set up Carlos Correa for a bases-clearing double to take a quick 3-0 lead. They doubled that lead in the second on a sac fly from Alex Bregman then two-run bomb by Yuli Gurriel, making it 6-0. Evan Gattis kept the runs coming with a solo homer in the third, extending the lead to 7-0. The Rockies were able to string together some hits off of Cole in the top of the fourth, getting a run across to get on the board and make it a 7-1 game. Houston took the momentum right back in the bottom of the fifth, getting a two-run home run by Tyler White then Evan Gattis' second solo homer of the night to make it 10-1. Other than the rough fourth inning, Cole was dominant, getting another double-digit strikeout game with 12 total over 6 innings with just the one run on 5 hits. He could've gone deeper in the game, but with the large lead, the call to the bullpen was made, with Ryan Pressly out first. Pressly got through the top of the seventh by striking out the side, while in the bottom of the inning Tyler White joined Gattis as another Astro with a multi-HR game, getting a two-run homer to make it 12-1. Will Harris took over for a scoreless eighth, then Cionel Perez had the ninth and closed out the lopsided win which included five home runs for Houston to go with 17 strikeouts from the mound.
Final Score: Rockies 1, Astros 12

Friday, August 17th: 74-47 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 72-49 A's (Edwin Jackson)

With George Springer activated from the DL Friday afternoon, along with Jose Altuve running drills around the bases, the Astros had a good motivation boost going into Friday night's series opener. After a scoreless first three innings, Alex Bregman got the first run on the board with a solo home run launched to center field to make it 1-0 Houston. Martin Maldonado followed that with his first homer as an Astro in the next inning, extending the lead to 2-0. After working around his first hit allowed in the game in the fourth inning, Charlie Morton ran into trouble in the fifth ending up with bases loaded and no outs after an error by Carlos Correa. Morton was able to get the next batter to ground into a double play, conceding a run and making it a 2-1 game. That left a runner on third who would come in to score on an RBI single later in the inning and tie the game as Morton went through three batters to get the final out of the fifth. After back-to-back one-out walks in the top of the sixth, Josh Reddick came through in his old stomping grounds to give Houston the lead back with an RBI-single to make it 3-2. Charlie Morton's night was done after five innings, bringing out Collin McHugh who took over in the sixth with a scoreless inning. After McHugh, Ryan Pressly through another impressive inning in the seventh, followed by Roberto Osuna keeping the one-run lead intact in the eighth. That setup Hector Rondon to get the save in the ninth, but after allowing a one-out walk, gave up a long double which resulted in a relay through from Reddick at the wall to Carlos Correa who threw an absolute bullet to Martin Maldonado which was ruled an out at home of the runner who went first to home on the play. After a challenge and review, the crew in New York made a questionable decision to overturn the call on the field, resulting in the score counting and making it a tie game. Rondon would get through the rest of the inning, sending the game to extras, where Tony Sipp would allow the walk-off run on a solo homer to the first batter he faced.
Final Score: Astros 3, A's 4

Saturday, August 18th: 74-48 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 73-49 A's (Trevor Cahill) 

After a closely contested back-and-forth game on Friday night, Saturday's game was much more one-sided in favor of Oakland. It started in the bottom of the very first inning when the A's were able to to get two runs off of Dallas Keuchel with a two-RBI double to go up 2-0 early. They'd never look back from that lead, scoring three more runs off of Keuchel in the fifth on three different RBI-doubles to extend the lead to 5-0, and ending Keuchel's day with five runs on nine hits and sending him on to his tenth loss of the season, dropping his record to 9-10 on the year. Oakland added two more insurance runs off of Brad Peacock in the eighth, but it would be unneeded as the lone run Houston would score on the day would come on a solo homer by Tony Kemp in the top of the ninth with the game already out of reach. That homer, paired with a Yuli Gurriel infield single hours earlier in the second inning, were the only two hits the Astros could muster up in the whole game as they sputtered along to the lopsided loss and allowed Oakland to finally reach them atop the AL West, both teams finishing the day with a 74-49 record.
Final Score: Astros 1, A's 7

Sunday, August 19th: 74-49 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 74-49 A's (Sean Manaea)

Once again on the mound to try for his 200th win, and hoping to help give the Astros a spark to fight back against the A's and go back as the sole division leaders, was Justin Verlander. Things did not look great early, as similar to his horrible outing a few starts ago Verlander was giving up home runs in the first inning, two solo shots to put Oakland up 2-0. Houston's offense was able to finally get a breakout inning, a four-run top of the third with an RBI single from Alex Bregman then a three-run homer by Yuli Gurriel to double up the A's at 4-2. That lead would be short-lived in this instance after a two-run home run by Oakland tied the game at 4 in the bottom of the same inning. Houston answered right back with Evan Gattis getting a solo home run of his own in the top of the fifth, giving Houston another lead at 5-4. After the early home runs in the first and third innings, Verlander was able to make quick work of the A's in the fourth and fifth innings, during which George Springer drove in another run with an RBI single to make it 6-4. Verlander was back out for the sixth but after back-to-back one-out singles to put runners on first and third, saw his day come to an end, bringing in Brad Peacock to try and strand those runners to keep Verlander in line for the win. Peacock did just that, getting a strikeout, walk to load the bases, then a huge strikeout to strand the bases. Martin Maldonado and Alex Bregman would pad the lead in the top of the seventh, both getting solo homers to make it 8-4 followed by Marwin Gonzalez in the eighth who hit one more to make it 9-4 and give Houston five homers on the day. The bullpen held that lead well, with Ryan Pressley in the seventh, Hector Rondon in the eighth, and Joe Smith in the ninth only allowing one hit and no runs on the way to the big win to regain the AL West lead, and also give Verlander his milestone win. 
Final Score: Astros 9, A's 4

Summary

Although Houston has the benefit of a timely and impactful win on Sunday to end things on a happy note, they still posted another losing week going 2-3 while allowing the A's to get all the way to the top of the division. The offense continues to teeter-totter on being red-hot or ice-cold on any given day, either scoring close to double digits or only getting a few hits at all. That being said, the Astros do have a lot going for them right now that could spark them into a blazing finish to the year to outpace anyone else. In addition to Carlos Correa rejoining the team the week prior and ramping back up, George Springer also got off of the DL on Friday and has already started contributing for the offense. While those are two big pieces that are great to have back, the biggest piece had a rehab assignment on Sunday where he went 1-for-3 and is rumored to be ready to rejoin the team as soon as Tuesday. That piece, no surprise, is Jose Altuve, and him rejoining the team will have so many benefits, namely on offense. The starting pitching situation is a little less solid at the moment, though, with Lance McCullers' current stint on the DL finally affecting the rotation this coming Tuesday where they will have to have someone fill in a blank spot on the schedule. Manager A.J. Hinch has stated it will likely be one of either Brad Peacock or Collin McHugh, no strangers to starting, or youngster Cionel Perez who has been improving with more time on the major league roster. Luckily this should only affect a couple of games with McCullers slated to make a return in September. The Astros, though they have definitely lost too many games in recent weeks, are getting healthy, and have a great shot at heating up at the right time. 

MVP of the Week - Justin Verlander

We are nearing the one-year anniversary of one of the most influential trades in Houston Astros history when they were able to sign Justin Verlander and win a championship. Although it took him two tries this week, Verlander was able to finally notch that prestigious 200th win on Sunday putting him in the conversation with some of the greatest pitchers of all time, and definitely one of the greatest active pitchers in the game right now. Verlander joins CC Sabathia (244) and Bartolo Colon (247) as only the third active pitcher to currently have 200 or more wins and is now tied for 114th on the all-time MLB wins list, a list full of Hall of Famers. Verlander is the rightful ace of this team, and fans can only hope the Astros can get in position to have Verlander go on another impressive playoff run like he did in 2017. 

This Week:

  • Mon-Wed: (75-49) Astros @ (71-54) Mariners
  • Fri-Sun: (75-49) Astros @ (63-63) Angels

Houston will continue their stay on the west coast this week with six more games on the road. To start the week, the Astros will be in Seattle where they will look to avenge the recent four-game sweep Seattle achieved in Houston. Monday night's matchup will be intriguing as it will be a matchup of the hot Gerrit Cole vs. Felix Hernandez who had been moved to the bullpen after recent struggles but finds himself back in the rotation due to injuries. This weekend, the Astros will face off against the .500 Angels again for three games in Anaheim where they will try to keep a returning Mike Trout at bay after a DL stint. Houston will have to have a strong week to keep Oakland behind them since the A's have a winnable week with three against the Rangers and four against the Twins, two sub-.500 teams. 

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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