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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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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