There is a lot going on for the Astros besides trade talk

Astros roundup: Correa and Diaz nearing a return, another Silver Boot win and more

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

While many are keeping a steady pulse on trade rumors as the July 31st deadline nears, the Astros have a few other moving pieces worth giving an in-depth look. Can they finish the season with the best overall record? Will they lock up the division well before game 162? What will the return of Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz mean for the defense and batting order?

Let's take a stab at some of these questions while we wait for some trades to start coming through the wire:

The Silver Boot stays in Houston as Astros continue to bash AL West at home

The 2019 Astros remain a vastly improved team from the 2016 squad that went 4-15 against their rivals up I-45. Since that year, the Astros went on to post back-to-back 12-7 records against the Rangers, winning the silver boot in both 2017 and 2018.

This weekend, Houston locked it up once again, sweeping the Rangers in the three-game series. That gave them wins ten and eleven of the nineteen total games, securing the season series with two games left against Texas this year.

The three-game sweep also moved the Astros to 15-1 at home against their division. Houston's remaining schedule features twenty-two of the remaining sixty-one games of the season against the AL West at Minute Maid Park. That stretch of games starts tonight with a three-game series with the second-place A's.

Potentially light schedule remaining

Speaking of the division, the Astros currently lead theirs by 6.5 games. That lead, paired with their success this year against the division, has them at a 99.0% chance to lock up another AL West pennant, according to FanGraphs.

Those odds could also factor in Houston's remaining strength of schedule. Of the remaining twenty series the Astros have, eleven of those are against teams currently over .500 while the other nine are not. Of note, out of those eleven, seven are against the A's, Rangers, or Angels, whom the Astros have been successful against this season so far.

Some of the marquis matchups remaining on the schedule include next week's trip to Cleveland to face the Indians for three games, hosting the Rays for three games at the end of august, then a two-game set with the Brewers in Milwaukee at the beginning of September.

Should Houston take care of business and stay healthy, they could easily regain the top spot in the overall MLB standings, win the race to 100 wins, and even potentially lock up the best overall record at the end of the season.

The return of Correa and Diaz

With both nearing the end of their rehab assignments, the Astros should get both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz back this week. The return of these two pieces is one step closer to the Astros being a fully healthy team. Granted, they have not had extreme struggles during any of the injuries this season.

Diaz will help provide some depth at various positions on the field, allowing for more scheduled rest days that the Astros will be grateful for down the stretch towards the playoffs. His return will be especially helpful at first base, where the recent move to take Tyler White off the roster leaves Houston short-handed.

Another position that will receive a boost this week is shortstop. While Myles Straw has done a fine job of covering the position, as has Alex Bregman, it's no question that Carlos Correa is an upgrade defensively. The intriguing question will be: how does he shake up the batting order?

Before sustaining his rib injury, Correa was batting fifth behind Michael Brantley. Now, with Yordan Alvarez in that slot in the lineup and performing remarkably well, where will A.J. Hinch stick Correa? Do you put him ahead of Yuli Gurriel, as hot as he's been, or put him as far down as seventh? I suppose it's a good problem to have for a manager.

Several bats heating up

When considering how to plug Correa back into the lineup, it'll be a fun assignment trying to align a few bats that have been heating up, and staying hot, recently. Jose Altuve is one of those, who before his injury on May 10th had started his season out with a disappointing .243 average.

Altuve has been on a momentum-building tear of late, though, increasing that average up to .273 and posting multi-hit games in twelve of his twenty-six games since returning to the lineup. In contrast from Altuve who is working his way back to a .300 average, there's Michael Brantley.

Brantley has not seen a batting average under .300 since April 19th. He currently sits at .332, which is good for second in the American League and fifth in the entire league. His consistency has been a great asset to the Astros.

Another guy that has been putting up highlights nearly every day, at least recently, is Yuli Gurriel. He has been absolutely red-hot in the sample size of his last twenty-two games. In that stretch, dating back to June 23rd, Gurriel has gone 34-for-91 for a .374 average and driven in 28 runs including 13 home runs.

Oh, and let's not forget the rookie who is living up to the hype, Yordan Alvarez. He continues to shine in his early major-league career, slashing .333 / .406 / .675 to maintain an OPS over 1.000, currently at 1.081. While his home runs have been the highlight, all ten of them so far, he has also shown he can come through with clutch hits. Alvarez notched one more RBI on Sunday, raising his total in his rookie campaign to 34. He continues to shoot his way up the Rookie of the Year predictions, and for a good reason.

While the surging offense does not erase the need for a fresh arm for the rotation, it does give Houston a better chance to bail out days with below-average pitching.

So again, while trades will dominate the headlines in the coming days as teams try to either fortify their 2019 roster or tear down for a future rebuild, the Astros have plenty to keep them occupied while they wait to see what their front office comes away with before the deadline.

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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