Week in review

Astros recap: Winning streak grows as playoffs loom

Justin Verlander and the Astros are prepping for the playoffs. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros won their fifth straight game on Tuesday, beating the White Sox 3-1. Mchugh had a good start, going five innings while giving up just one run which came on a RBI double by Abreu in the third. That would be the only run the White Sox would score thanks to five strikeouts from Mchugh and four scoreless innings from Harris, Gregerson, Devenski, and Giles, who earned his thirty-second save of the year. Offensively, the Astros bounced back from the early 1-0 deficit by putting up two runs in the fourth on a solo homer from Altuve and RBI double from Bregman. The Astros added a third run in the eighth on a RBI groundout from Altuve, sending them on to the win.

They would add one more win to make it six straight on Wednesday with a 4-3 win thanks to another solid start from Peacock and some timely offense. Peacock went six strong innings, giving up just one hit which unfortunately was a two-run home run to Moncada in the top of the fourth. That gave the White Sox a 2-1 lead at the time after a RBI single from Gattis in the second had put the Astros up 1-0. Gurriel answered back in the bottom of the fourth with a two-RBI double to give the Astros the lead back 3-2. Altuve extended the lead with a RBI single in the seventh to make it 4-2 before Sanchez trimmed the lead back to 1 with a RBI double off of Gregerson in the top of the eighth to make it 4-3. Musgrove would come in for the final four outs and had another strong appearance out of the bullpen to get the save and seal the win.

The winning streak would come to an end on Thursday as the Astros would lose 3-1 on a night filled with the White Sox’ bullpen. The starter for Chicago, Fulmer, had to exit the game just one out into the bottom of the first inning due to a finger blister, setting up a game filled with seven pitchers out of the bullpen for the White Sox. The Astros were able to get just one run off of them, which came by way of a solo home run from McCann in the bottom of the third inning. Outside of that, the Astros were held to just two other hits and were unable to get any offense going. Keuchel started for the Astros but due to the limited run support earned the loss as a result of two runs he gave up, one in the second as he walked in a run, and then a RBI groundout by Smith in the third with the bases loaded. The White Sox added an insurance run on a solo home run by Anderson in the eighth off of Martes as they cruised to their victory which when combined with the sweep in Chicago earlier this season won them the season series 4-2.

The Astros got back on track Friday night with the fourth straight stellar start from Verlander which surged them on to their 3-0 shutout win over the Angels. Verlander was terrific again, going seven strong innings during which he gave up just one hit and struck out six. Devenski pitched a great eighth setting up Giles for his 33rd save of the year. All of the Astros’ runs came on one great swing of the bat by Gurriel, a three-run blast to left-center which turned out to be the difference maker in an otherwise quiet game offensively for both teams.

Saturday’s game was a lot more interesting offensively in the Astros’ favor. I was somewhat surprised when I turned the game on in the top of the fifth and saw Morton pitching with a 34 pitch count. I had to quickly look up to see who had started and why Morton had been brought in as a long reliever, then I realized that Morton, in fact, had started the game, but had somehow managed to get through the first four innings with only those 34 pitches. Morton’s one blemish on the day was a solo homer by Upton in the top of the seventh, which was Morton’s last inning despite only being at 81 pitches. He left with a 5-1 lead thanks to RBIs from Correa in the first and fifth and a huge three-run blast form Gattis in the fifth. Correa added his third RBI of the game in the bottom of the seventh on a single to make it 6-1. Sipp and Musgrove combined for a scoreless eighth before Harris came in for the ninth. Upton got his second homer of the game off Harris in the top of the ninth, but the Angels were unable to do anything else, sending the Astros to the 6-2 win, which they were able to get despite resting Altuve, Springer, and Reddick.

The Angels got the better of the Astros’ bullpen on Sunday Night Baseball last night, winning the series finale 7-5 and keeping their chances at the second AL Wild Card spot, as slim as they are, alive. McCullers made his first start back from his most recent stint on the DL and looked decent, but not great. He was able to get through the first two innings without too much trouble and struck out four in those two innings, but got into trouble in the third after putting runners on the corner and inducing a ground ball that arguably could’ve gone home but Bregman got the out at second instead. He was able to limit the damage to that one run but gave up a solo homer to Phillips in the top of the fourth followed by a strong line drive out to center which prompted Hinch to go to the bullpen with McCullers being on a limited pitch count anyway. The Astros had a 4-2 lead at the time thanks to a huge bottom of the third where Bregman launched a two-run blast into the Crawford Boxes along with a two-RBI double from Gattis. The momentum shifted in the fifth when Martes struggled in another relief appearance, loading the bases then walking in a run before being pulled for Hoyt. Hoyt came in and walked in a run as well to tie the game at 4 before getting out of the inning. Former Astro Valbuena got the best of Devenski in the top of the seventh, scoring two to make it 6-4 with a double to the fence in right field. The Astros got one back with a Springer Dinger in the bottom of the seventh to trim the lead to one, but Upton answered right back with one of his own off of Gregerson in the top of the eighth, making it 7-5, which would be the final.

The Astros could’ve used the momentum of sweeping the Angels and getting the win last night in primetime to make it a 5-1 week, but a 4-2 week isn’t too shabby either. They won both series while tinkering and tuning things up for the playoffs, which is a good thing. The fight with the Indians will get interesting this week, as the Indians will have three games against the Twins who are trying to hold off everyone else for the second Wild Card spot, but then finish with three against the lowly White Sox. The Astros currently sit 2.5 games behind the Indians, meaning they’ll have to have a great week paired with some Indian losses to overtake them and clinch home field throughout the AL playoffs.

Even though it looks like it may be time to shut McCullers down or move him to the bullpen, I’m not worried because of the fierce competition for the playoff rotation going on between Peacock, Morton, and McHugh. I wouldn’t fault Hinch for putting any of those guys in the third spot in the rotation, they’ve all been dealing. Verlander has been outstanding, and I have a feeling Keuchel will be better than ever on the playoff stage. Things are shaping up for a fun playoff run, and I still think the Astros have as good a shot as anyone.

MVP of the Week – Carlos Beltran: Unlike my usual MVP of the week which is a player who shined in that particular week, I had to get in Carlos Beltran for his overall success and for what he’s brought to the team this year. When I heard the Astros landed him this year, I knew it was to bring his veteran presence to this young team, and even though we can’t see exactly how he’s helped in that way, it’s apparent that this team looks and plays more maturely than they would had he not been brought in. In addition to that, last night he hit his 2,722nd hit of his career passing Lou Gehrig for 62nd of all time. Also, he donated $1,000,000 of his own money to aid Puerto Rico during their hurricane rebuild efforts. He’s a class act on and off the field, and the Astros are better for having him this year.

This Week’s Schedule

  • MON-WED: Astros (95-60) @ Rangers (76-79)
  • THU-SUN: Astros (95-60) @ Red Sox (91-64)

Seven more games in the regular season before the fun starts. They start a three-game series in Arlington tonight with the virtually eliminated Rangers (this series they wanted to keep at home so bad is going to end up being for nothing, by the way) before heading to Boston for what could be a potential ALDS preview against the Red Sox. The Astros need to keep their foot on the gas, not only to try and pass the Indians for the best record but to keep their momentum going into the playoffs strong.

Originally appeared on houstonsportsandstuff.com.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome