THE ASTROS REPORT

Astros secure playoff spot, closer to clinching division after 4-2 week

Yuli Gurriel had a monster weekend. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After a great showing the week before, the Astros looked to keep things rolling along to clinch a playoff berth and get closer to locking up the division as well. They'd have to go through some AL West foes to do it, though. Here's how things went: 

Monday, Sept. 17: 82-67 Mariners (Wade LeBlanc) vs. 94-55 Astros (Framber Valdez) 

The week got under way with a quiet start on Monday night, with both teams going scoreless through the first three innings. Wade LeBlanc held the Astros hitless through those innings, but Houston was able to change that in the fourth after a Yuli Gurriel double with two-outs led to the first run of the game, an RBI-double from Marwin Gonzalez to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. Other than a few walks that extended a few innings, Framber Valdez did his job in his start, getting through five innings without allowing Seattle to get on the board while striking out six. Joe Smith was first out of the bullpen and retired the side in order in the sixth, followed by Tony Sipp who faced a few batters in the seventh but after putting a couple of runners on base with two outs, was relieved in favor of Ryan Pressly who got the third out to end the top of the seventh. Houston held on to their one-run lead until the top of the eighth where Hector Rondon struggled to get outs, giving up two singles then a two-out walk to load the bases before allowing a go-ahead grand slam to put Seattle up 4-1. Brad Peacock was able to get through the top of the ninth without any runs, but the Astros would be held to just their one run back in the fourth inning and three total hits on the night in the loss to start the series and the week.
Final Score: Mariners 4, Astros 1

Tuesday, Sept. 18: 83-67 Mariners (Mike Leake) vs. 94-56 Astros (Josh James) 

The Astros had a much more productive night on Tuesday, starting in the third inning when they would get a four-run inning to start the scoring on an RBI single by George Springer, RBI groundout by Jose Altuve, and a two-run home run by Marwin Gonzalez to take a 4-0 lead. Josh James was once again electric on the mound, giving up just four hits over his five and one-third innings of work during which he struck out seven and held the Mariners scoreless. He was followed by Tony Sipp who came in to face a couple of lefties in the sixth, then Will Harris who got the last out of the inning. Harris returned to the mound for a quick ten-pitch top of the seventh to keep the game at 4-0. Brian McCann extended the Astros' lead to 5-0 with a sac fly in the bottom of the seventh, then in the eighth Houston added two more on an RBI double from Tyler White and RBI groundout by pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker to make it 7-0. They'd hold on to that lead after Collin McHugh worked around a one-out double in the eighth to get through that inning then Chris Devenski finished things off in the top of the ninth in the lopsided win.
Final Score: Mariners 0, Astros 7

Wednesday, Sept. 19: 83-68 Mariners (Matt Festa) vs. 95-56 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

Dallas Keuchel had more early-game troubles in his start on Wednesday night, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits to go with 1 walk and a wild pitch in just the first inning, not to mention getting a comebacker off of him that deflected into right field, to give the Mariners an 3-0 lead right off the bat. Keuchel would get through the next few innings without any more trouble, but that ended in the fifth when the Mariners scored two more runs off of him on a walk, double, and single to extend their lead to 5-0. Keuchel's night would end early after those five innings, but he was not the only pitcher to give up runs to Seattle on the night. Brad Peacock allowed a solo home run in the sixth, Dean Deetz allowed a solo home run and RBI double in the seventh, then Cionel Perez allowed a solo home run in the eighth as the Mariners would go on to demolish the Astros 9-0. Houston's offense ended up being shut out on a bullpen night for Seattle and was held to just five hits on the night in the loss that gave Seattle the series win and also edged out Houston 10-9 on the series season as well. 
Final Score: Mariners 9, Astros 0

Friday, Sept. 21: 75-78 Angels (Andrew Heaney) vs. 95-57 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Houston started the weekend series with the Angels off with a bang on Friday night. In the bottom of the first, the Astros loaded the bases after singles from Jost Altuve and Alex Bregman, and a two-out walk by Marwin Gonzalez. That set up Yuli Gurriel who drilled the first pitch he saw for an opposite-field homer to right field for a grand slam to start the night with a 4-0 lead. Gurriel wasn't done there, he would make it back-to-back at-bats with homers with a two-run shot to the Crawford Boxes in the third to raise his RBI count to 6 and extend the lead to 6-0, then came through with one more RBI in the fifth on a single to make it 7-0. That gave Gerrit Cole plenty of breathing room, but he wouldn't need all of it because he had another strong start on his season including striking out twelve batters over his seven innings. He did allow a two-run home run to Mike Trout in the sixth and RBI single in the seventh, but with the large lead, it did not tarnish his great night. The Astros were not content with their seven runs, putting together another offensive-heavy inning in the eighth including an RBI-groundout by Jake Marisnick before George Springer put an exclamation point on the night with a three-run blast to make it 11-3. That would be the final score after a three up, three down inning by Tony Sipp in the eighth then Dean Deetz working around a walk and hit-by-pitch in the ninth to close out the win and secure the Astros a spot in the playoffs.
Final Score: Angels 3, Astros 11

Saturday, Sept. 22: 75-79 Angels (Jaime Barria) vs. 96-57 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Saturday night's game was a pitching duel through the first six innings, with the one and only run during that span belonging to the Astros after Yuli Gurriel led off the bottom of the fourth with a double, moved to third on a fly ball, then scored on an RBI single from Evan Gattis. Verlander, despite having an extended first inning where it took him 27 pitches to get through, was brilliant on the mound, keeping the Astros in front with their one run thanks to six innings of one-hit, shutout baseball with another double-digit strikeout game with eleven. Ryan Pressly was able to keep the 1-0 lead alive in the seventh, working around a couple of hits to get three outs. Hector Rondon was out for his eighth-inning role but would allow the Angels to tie the game 1-1 after a leadoff walk and RBI double. Rondon would get a strikeout for the first out, then was pulled with the call going to Joe Smith to try and get the last two outs of the inning. Instead, Smith would turn things from bad to worse after an error brought Mike Trout to the plate who promptly smashed a three-run home run to give the Angels their first lead of the night at 4-1. Smith would go on to allow another run a few batters later to make it 5-1, all without recording a single out which Collin McHugh would come in and get to finish the inning. With runs to that point so hard to come by, the 5-1 deficit looked insurmountable for Houston, but they disagreed, getting the bats swinging in the bottom of the eighth to put together an unbelievable nine-run inning with RBI singles from Yuli Gurriel, Brian McCann, and Evan Gattis to make it 5-4, then a groundball by Tyler White led to an error which allowed two runs to score to give Houston the lead back at 6-5 before getting a two-RBI single from George Springer and a two-run home run by Jose Altuve to cap things off and make it 10-5. Though not a save situation, Roberto Osuna still took the mound in the ninth to close things out, which he did on nine pitches to complete the epic comeback. 
Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 10

Sunday, Sept. 23: 75-80 Angels (Tyler Skaggs) vs. 97-57 Astros (Charlie Morton) 

For the first time in the series, the Angels would score first on Sunday afternoon off of Charlie Morton in the top of the first, getting a one-out double that advanced to third then scored on a couple of wild pitches, making it a quick 1-0 game. Morton would actually leave the game after the first, labeled as shoulder discomfort which lines up with his low velocity he was providing in his inning of work. The Astros didn't trail for long, as they answered back with a three-run first inning including Yuli Gurriel, who continued his recent hot streak with a two-run homer to make it 2-1 before an RBI-single from Evan Gattis extended the new lead to 3-1. Framber Valdez took over in the second with Houston turning to him to eat up some innings, and he did exactly that as he would get through the next six innings with one run allowed, a solo homer in the sixth. In addition to getting through six innings, Valdez also notched nine strikeouts during that span, walked two, and held the Angels to just three hits. The offense gave him some extra run support during that span, with an RBI single from Marwin Gonzalez making it 4-1 in the third, then an RBI single from Evan Gattis in the fifth extending the lead to 5-1 before the solo home run from Los Angeles trimmed that back to 5-2. Houston would stretch the lead back to four in the bottom of the seventh after a couple of singles and a walk loaded the bases for Josh Reddick who worked an RBI walk to put Houston on top 6-2. They would hold on to that lead thanks to a solid eighth from Collin McHugh and ninth from Will Harris to close out the sweep.
Final Score: Angels 2, Astros 6

Summary

Despite the two tough losses to the Mariners in the first series of the week, the Astros came back strong in the weekend series to sweep the Angels and make it another winning week at 4-2. It looked as though the Astros were never going to get any help from Oakland's opponents, but after a couple of close games the Twins let slip away on Friday and Saturday, they would finally beat the A's on Sunday which brought the Astros magic number to win the division down to 3. The biggest question right now for the Astros is their injuries to some key players. Carlos Correa had the weekend series off to nurse his back injury which he attributes to his recent offensive struggles. Charlie Morton left Sunday's game after one inning with shoulder discomfort, and even though he did well out of the bullpen last year, we have yet to see what Lance McCullers will bring to the team when he returns. What they showed this weekend is that they can be resilient despite having some key players out, as evidenced by some guys like Framber Valdez, Yuli Gurriel, and other supporting players stepping up when needed. A good scenario for the Astros will be if they can lock the division up early next week and potentially rest some players for the start of the postseason. One thing is for sure, having Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole pitching with the years they are having will be a huge benefit if that translates well into the playoffs because that'll put the Astros in great shape to get early wins in their series matchups against any team they'll face. Another thing they showed this weekend is that they can actually score some runs and have good games at home, albeit against the Angels, which could be a confidence boost since they will likely end up having home-field advantage in an ALDS matchup against the Indians to start things off in October. 

MVP of the Week - Yuli Gurriel

It's not often that a player can have a big enough three-game span to make my MVP of the week, but it happened over the weekend with Yuli Gurriel. After going 4-for-12 with no RBIs against the Mariners to start the week, Gurriel caught fire against the Angels starting with his grand slam to start the series on Friday night. Yuli's hot weekend would bring his totals on the week to 12-for-26 batting for a 0.462 average over the six games, three doubles, and three homers to notch his 10 RBIs. He could be heating up at the right time to give the middle of the order some punch in a potential playoff run. 

This Week

  • Mon-Wed: (98-57) Astros @ (71-85) Blue Jays
  • Thu-Sun: (98-57) Astros @ (45-110) Orioles

With their last regular-season game at home on Sunday, the Astros will go on the road for the final week of games. They'll start north of the border in Toronto to start the week against the Blue Jays, then will wrap the regular season up with a four-game series against the MLB worst Orioles. With both of these teams having nothing other than pride to play for, it will be a good chance for Houston to get a few easy wins and wrap things up early to get geared up for the ALDS.