Houston has a hot night at the plate

Astros power past Rays in series opener

Astros' Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley
Houston started this series against the Rays hot at the plate. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Houston started this series against the Rays hot at the plate.

Despite a loss to end the recent homestand, the Astros were still riding the momentum of a 6-2 record over their last eight games heading into this road trip and three-game series with the Rays at Tropicana Field. They would back Lance McCullers Jr., who had a great night on the mound, with plenty of runs to grab the win in the opener Friday night.

Final Score: Astros 9, Rays 2

Astros' Record: 14-12, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Ryan Yarbrough (1-3)

Astros open a big lead early

Houston was able to beat up on Ryan Yarbrough to put up some early runs. They scored one run on three hits in the top of the first with an RBI single by Carlos Correa, setting the tone and grabbing a 1-0 lead. They added three more in the third, two on a home run by Alex Bregman and another on an RBI groundout by Aledmys Diaz.

Martin Maldonado led off the fourth with a triple, then came around to make it a 5-0 game on an RBI single by Michael Brantley. Yarbrough battled back to save his bullpen somewhat, getting through six innings before Tampa Bay would have to dip into their relievers.

McCullers Jr. impresses with seven shutout innings

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. plenty of room to work with on the mound for Houston. He navigated through the first six innings while shutting out the Rays, allowing just three hits and three walks over that span while striking out seven. After his offense gave him another run in the top of the seventh on an RBI single by Diaz, his second RBI of the night, McCullers Jr. would continue on in the seventh, starting the inning at 97 pitches. He would get a quick frame to cap off his impressive night, retiring the Rays 1-2-3 on two more strikeouts. His final line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K, 111 P.

Astros get a dominant win to start the series

Kent Emanuel, who was electric in his major-league debut in his last appearance where he went 8.2 shutout innings, took over in the eighth out of Houston's bullpen. He worked around a one-out single for a scoreless inning before Houston would tack on more insurance in the top of the ninth on a two-RBI double by Aledmys Diaz and a sac fly by Myles Straw, making it 9-0.

Andre Scrubb, who was activated Friday, made his first appearance of 2021 in the bottom of the ninth with the nine-run lead. He would finish off the win, but not before allowing Tampa Bay's first two runs of the night with a two-out two-RBI single to break up the shutout.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start at 3:10 PM Central on Saturday. Josh Fleming (1-2, 1.23 ERA) will be on the mound for the Rays, while Jose Urquidy (1-2, 4.67 ERA) will get the start for the Astros.

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The Texans will have to shuffle the o-line once again. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

‚ÄúAnother one!‚ÄĚ- DJ Khaled

That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.

The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.

Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!

One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.

As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.

To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.

I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.

The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.

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