Breaking down the rest of the 2019 regular season

Astros second half preview

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the win on Sunday against the Angels, the Astros put an end to the part of the season commonly known as the "first half," although it's technically well past the halfway point in the season based on games. While the season so far has had its ups and downs, they remain a top contender in the league and the best in their division.

So while the team as a whole will get three days off while a few guys head to Cleveland for a few festivities over the next couple of days, it's a good time to look ahead and see what is in store for the Astros down the stretch in the hunt for October.

First, some All-Star fun

A few Astros will get to enjoy some well-deserved national attention on Monday and Tuesday night for the Home Run Derby and All-Star game. Monday night will be the 2019 Home Run Derby, and representing Houston will be Alex Bregman.

Bregman participated in the 2018 derby but made an early exit after losing 16-15 in round one to Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps this year with some experience under his belt Bregman can go deeper into the bracket. His first-round matchup will be Joc Pederson, who made it to the final round in 2015 before coming up just short of the crown.

If Bregman advances to the second round, he'll face the winner of Matt Chapman and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with a spot in the final round on the line. In the final round, Bregman would meet the best of Pete Alonso, Carlos Santana, Josh Bell, and Ronald Acuna Jr who comprise the other side of the bracket.

Then, on Tuesday night Bregman will join George Springer and Michael Brantley as starters in the field for the 2019 MLB All-Star game. Also on the roster are Houston's star pitchers Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Ryan Pressly. Stay tuned to SportsMap where we will give a recap of both the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game with a focus on Houston's players.

Win the division

Once the games matter again later this week, Houston will have one goal in mind: making the playoffs. The best way to do that is to win your division, something the Astros have done the last two seasons.

Houston has only played 33 of their 76 division games so far in 2019. That means that 43 of the last 72 games will be against division opponents. One of the good trends of the first part of this season has been the Astros doing well against the AL West, going 26-7 in the first 33 games.

They will resume the regular season this Thursday in Arlington with a 7.5 game lead over Oakland who sits in second place and nine games ahead of the Rangers in third. While that gives them some cushion to work with, Houston will have to take care of business to make sure that a team that generates a significant surge at the end of the season, as the A's did in 2018, won't take them by surprise.

The other trend in Houston's favor regarding their division, they were 12-1 in games at home against the AL West. They will have a lot of chances to take advantage of that through September; Houston will play 25 of the 43 division games at Minute Maid Park.

Keep the pace

One way to virtually ensure you win your division is to post a 100-win record. Houston had 101 wins in their 2017 championship season, then bested that with 103 in 2018 when they would fall in the ALCS to the 108-win Red Sox.

The Astros, currently at 57-33, are on pace to win 103 games yet again. Can they beat their 2018 win total and post a new franchise-best regular season? Nine of the final twenty-three series that Houston has on the schedule are against teams that are currently above .500 on the year.

Within those nine, many of those are against the Rangers and A's at home, so when you pair that with the matchups against weaker teams, it's plausible that the Astros could go on several long winning streaks and finish the season better than 103-59.

Staying healthy

While the Astros are still not completely healthy going into the All-Star break, they are getting close. The biggest names that should be returning to the lineup soon are Brad Peacock, Aledmys Diaz, and most notably, Carlos Correa.

Correa's return is expected shortly after the regular season resumes, which should provide a noticeable improvement on both sides of the ball. Having Correa's defense at shortstop will allow the infield to return to normal with Alex Bregman at third, Jose Altuve at second, and Yuli Gurriel at first base. His return alone will bring some stability back on the defense that, while it hasn't been horrible, has had some miscues with players covering some unfamiliar ground.

Similarly, having Aledmys Diaz back in his utility role will allow some of the players who have had to go extended periods without a break to have some rest days when needed to ensure that everyone is staying healthy. Peacock returning to the pitching core will help shore up a rotation that is currently struggling past the top three arms.

Having these three back and keeping the rest of the team intact the rest of the year will be crucial to a momentous finish and successful playoff push.

Trade deadline decisions

The path to the July 31st trade deadline should be an interesting one for Houston. One side of the argument is that they do not need to take any drastic measures to improve an already successful team. On the other hand, some prominent weak spots could be firmed up to help in the playoffs.

Right now, one of those weaker spots is in the rotation. With Brad Peacock on the IL and Collin McHugh in the bullpen again, the Astros only have three solid starters: Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Wade Miley. While Peacock will likely return to the rotation when he returns, he's also done well out of the bullpen in recent years. McHugh is looking sharp as a reliever too, as he did in previous seasons.

Several arms have been connected to Houston in possible trades before the deadline such as Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Marcus Stroman, and Matthew Boyd. It will all come down to how much the trading team asks for since the Astros have repeatedly been unwilling to move any of their highest prospects like Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley.

Additionally, while the Astros may need a strong starting arm in 2019, that may not be the case in 2020 when they get Lance McCullers Jr. back, and have Whitley in waiting to take his place on the team as well. Still, Jeff Lunhow has made several terrific moves for his team in recent years; look no further than the acquisitions of their current duo of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

All in all, the Astros are in great shape to continue their winning ways in the remaining games of the 2019 season so that they can be in a position to try and win the second World Series in franchise history. As always, we'll have our daily Astros report to give you recaps of every game Houston plays the rest of the year.

Astros get back on track with lopsided win

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 2 hits from the 11-2 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With two of their worst pitching performances behind them from Monday and Tuesday nights, the Astros had Gerrit Cole on the mound on Wednesday to try and right the ship. Here is a recap of the third of four games in this series:

Final Score: Astros 11, Angels 2.

Record: 60-37, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Gerrit Cole (10-5, 3.12 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Felix Pena (7-3, 4.92 ERA).

1) Overpowering offense makes it easy for Houston's pitchers

Houston's openers and primary pitchers put up disappointing numbers the offense could not overcome the previous two nights. Houston's bats flipped the script on that, taking control of the game on Tuesday night to make it less stressful for Gerrit Cole and the bullpen.

They started with a three-run first inning, getting a one-out single by Jose Altuve who would score on an RBI-double by Alex Bregman before a two-run homer by Michael Brantley in the next at-bat. They continued scoring in the next two innings, getting a run in each. Jose Altuve notched an RBI-double in the second, then Yuli Gurriel led the third inning off with a double before scoring on a wild pitch later in the inning.

They nearly doubled that 6-0 lead in the top of the fifth, getting four straight two-out hits. It started with a single by Robinson Chirinos to move Michael Brantley, who was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning, over to second. Tyler White was next with another RBI in this series, getting a single to score Brantley. Jake Marisnick was next, and he came through with an RBI-double before George Springer would clear the bases with a three-run dinger to make it an 11-0 game.

2) Cole gives fans a breath of fresh air

As mentioned, Astros fans were desperate for an efficient pitching performance after the woes of the last two nights. Gerrit Cole delivered, rebounding from his previous start, which was a drop-off from his usual numbers and having a more typical night.

Cole allowed only a handful of hits and a walk over the first four innings, keeping the Angels off the board until the fifth. They would tag him with his near-daily home run in that inning, a solo shot to make it an 11-1 game, the only run he would allow on the night.

Even with his pitch count in the 90s after six innings, the Astros trusted him to come back out and eat another inning. He did so, getting a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh on three strikeouts, bringing his total on the night to eleven. Cole's final line: 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 1 HR.

Cole's excellent performance meant only two innings of relief needed from Houston' bullpen. Joe Smith provided a scoreless eighth, then Ryan Pressly wrapped things up despite allowing a run in the bottom of the ninth to make it 11-2.

Up Next: The Astros and Angels will conclude this series tomorrow with the finale of the four-game set starting an hour earlier at 8:07 PM. The expected pitching matchup is Wade Miley (7-4, 3.32 ERA) for Houston going up against Matt Harvey (3-4, 6.88 ERA) for Los Angeles.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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