Breaking down the rest of the 2019 regular season

Astros second half preview

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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.

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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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