Things continue looking up for the Astros

Astros roundup: Alvarez should be a shoo-in, Correa looks better than ever, and more

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Although last week ended on a sour note for Houston, they should still have their confidence high heading into a full week of games on the road. Between the offensive explosion that wowed everyone on Saturday, Yordan Alvarez powering his way into award conversations, to the team battling for the best record in the league, there's plenty of positives to break down for the Astros:

Alvarez should be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year

A little over two months ago, after months of buzz surrounding him with his minor-league success, we finally got to see the major-league debut of Yordan Alvarez. He wasted no time showing what he's capable of, hitting his first home run and driving in his first two runs in that first game on June 9th. Since then, he has not slowed down, and at this pace, it should be his award to lose.

One of the biggest arguments against Alvarez at this point is playing time. While his performance has been unreal, it has been over "just" two months, while other frontrunners have been with their teams much longer. Brandon Lowe, the leading candidate for most of the season, started his rookie campaign at the start of the season after being called up last August by the Rays. However, he has been sidelined by injury since July 3rd, allowing others like Alvarez to get into the mix.

Still, Alvarez's impact with his team so far is unmistakable. Comparing batters with at least 150 at-bats since his June 9th debut, here are some of the astounding numbers he has created (going into Sunday's games):

  • 51 RBIs, fourth, ahead of Mike Trout who sits fifth with 50
  • 17 home runs, tied for fourth-best with the likes of Pete Alonso and Cody Bellinger, and ahead of reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich who has 16 in the same time frame
  • .353 Average, fifth-best behind teammates Jose Altuve in fourth and Yuli Gurriel in second
  • .452 on-base percentage, second to only Ketel Marte
  • .743 slugging percentage, best in the league ahead of Yuli Gurriel in second with a .733 percentage
  • 1.175 OPS, best in the league and .037 ahead of Nelson Cruz in second

These aren't rankings against rookies or even just the AL; these are numbers against the entire league. So yes, while a cool-off could take him back out of the spotlight and lessen his chances, he has shown no signs of one coming. That means, if he can continue at this pace, I would expect him to be your AL Rookie of the Year.

Carlos Correa is back and looks better than ever 

Speaking of great stat lines over a limited sample size, Carlos Correa has looked great since returning from his rib injury. While it took him a few games to get going after returning on July 26th, if you look at just his month of August so far, you see that he's seeing and hitting the ball well.

Including Sunday's game where he made it back-to-back games with a home run, Correa has had a hot August going 13-for-35 with four home runs, 12 RBIs, and a .371 average for the month so far. Those offensive numbers don't factor in his defensive value, where he has been equally as impressive with several incredible plays and powerful throws to nail runners out at first base.

If he can stay in rhythm and play to his potential the rest of this year, he could be one of the many Astros in contention for postseason awards should they meet expectations and make it deep into the playoffs. Then, if he can bridge the rest of a successful 2019 season with a full, healthy 2020, he could be well on his way to earning either a significant extension contract with Houston or be one of the most sought after free agents when he hits the market at the end of 2021.

Who will be first to 100 wins?

As of now, it's a three-team race for the best record in the league: the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers. The Astros spent a short time as the best of the three before the disappointing loss on Sunday bumped them back a game behind the Dodgers, and tied with the Yankees.

The Astros have arguably the most manageable remaining schedule of the three, and the Dodgers and Yankees will play each other for a series towards the end of August which could put one of the two one or more games down the ranks. That keeps Houston in the driver's seat to not only be the first to 100 but end the season with the best record and control home-field advantage through the playoffs, which we've seen in recent years to be a massive difference for the Astros.

This offense is downright offensive to opposing pitchers

Sure, the loss on Sunday stings a little bit for Houston, but the story of the series with Baltimore was still the absolute pounding the Astros put on Baltimore in the middle game of the series. Houston's bats could not stop connecting with the baseball, resulting in the 23-2 win. Not only did Yordan Alvarez get a chance to show off with his three home runs, but it also displayed just how potent this lineup is.

Ever since Altuve and Correa had to miss some time and Alvarez was called up, many, including myself, were salivating at seeing this lineup healthy and playing well at the same time. We now see what that lineup is capable of, and a 23-run game is no surprise. Sure, they'll have their days where they struggle at the plate, and they won't dominate some of the more elite pitchers for 20+ runs, the cliché "there's no easy out in this lineup" is as accurate as ever.

Correa, as mentioned, has been a big part of that so far in August, but you've got George Springer still smashing from the leadoff spot, Jose Altuve on a terrific stretch since his return from injury, Michael Brantley in the middle of a batting title race, Alex Bregman instilling fear into pitchers to generate a ton of walks, and that's just the top four of the order. If you make it through them you've earned the right to face the phenom Yordan Alvarez, a surging Correa, then one of the league's hottest bats in Yuli Gurriel. That makes it a less-than-fun day to take the mound when you're going against the Astros.

Let's not forget about pitching

All this talk about the offense, and we haven't even touched on Houston's pitching. The Cy Young race is heating up between Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, with Cole having a chance to close the gap after a rough outing by Verlander on Sunday. Wade Miley has been great as well, lowering his season ERA below 3.00 and living up to expectations Houston had for him when they grabbed him this past offseason.

Zack Greinke will make his second start for Houston on Monday in Chicago against the White Sox and has a chance to move 2-0 with his new team, though they would like to see a bit of a better performance than in his debut where he allowed five runs over six innings.

Houston's relievers received a big lift this weekend with the return of Ryan Pressly, and will likely have Brad Peacock join their ranks soon as well. Roberto Osuna had a rare blown save on Sunday against the Orioles, but as long as he can get that out of his memory quickly and clean things back up for the push to the playoffs, he should be fine.

We are officially in the playoff push, and with a ten-game division lead going into mid-August, we may see Houston have plenty of time to fine-tune their roster and gameplans before the calendar turns to October. As has been the story for much of this season, when you put together all of Houston's plusses and compare them against the few and minuscule minuses, the Astros are still the team the league should be looking to beat in 2019.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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