Houston takes the series 3-1

Astros take series against Mariners after big offensive showing

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

A day after their first loss of the 2020 season and the loss of Justin Verlander to injury, temporarily at least, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park for the fourth and final game of the series against the Mariners. Josh James was on the mound making his first start of the year looking to provide some confidence in a pitching staff now down its cornerstone. Here is how he and Houston did on Monday:

Final Score: Astros 8, Mariners 5.

Record: 3-1, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-0, 2.70 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Kendall Graveman (0-1, 13.50 ERA).

James only goes three, but Altuve and Bregman get him off the hook

Josh James struggled to throw strikes on Monday, resulting in a short start when the Astros needed to find a way to conserve arms with the newly announced absence of Justin Verlander. James recorded a couple of strikeouts, worked around a walk and a single in the first, and then struck out the side to work around a hit-by-pitch in the second.

The third inning would quickly fall apart, though, as James started it off by walking the bases loaded with no outs. He would get a much-needed double play which brought in a run, but instead of stopping the damage there, allowed a two-run homer to make it a 3-0 Seattle advantage. James would walk one more batter before recording a strikeout, but with his volatile command and high pitch count, he would see that be the end of his day. James' final line: 3.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 5 K, 1 HR.

Luckily for him, his offense would have a big third inning of their own. After getting two on base with an error and a walk, Jose Altuve would come through with an RBI-double to get one of the runs back. That brought Alex Bregman to the plate, who took advantage and launched his 100th-career home run, a go-ahead three-run homer to give Houston a 4-3 lead.

Bielak makes his debut as Astros extend the lead

Brandon Bielak went to the mound in the top of the fourth to make his major-league debut and start the night for the bullpen. Bielak was impressive in his first inning, getting two quick outs before recording a strikeout to send the Mariners down 1-2-3 on just nine pitches. He returned for the fifth, and once again retired Seattle in order.

Meanwhile, the Astros were able to add to their lead. Dustin Garneau, making his debut behind the plate for the Astros, made it 5-3 with a two-out RBI-triple in the bottom of the fourth. Jose Altuve added another RBI to his game, hitting a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fifth. They kept tacking on, with Michael Brantley hitting into the right-field corner for an RBI-double, and Josh Reddick doing the same a few batters later, pushing the lead to five runs at 8-3.

Bielak would continue his debut in the top of the sixth and worked around his first baserunners to erase a double and single by getting a big strikeout to keep it a five-run game. In the seventh, he would stay on the mound to keep eating up innings, but after reaching 53 pitches and allowing two runs, one unearned on an error, he would see his night end, though it would still go down as an impressive first appearance. Enoli Paredes would get two strikeouts to finish the inning.

Houston locks up the series win

Cy Sneed was next out of Houston's bullpen, and he worked around a two-out walk to maintain the three-run lead. Roberto Osuna would come in for the save in the top of the ninth and would record his first of the season by keeping Seattle off the board to secure the series win.

Up Next: The Astros will turn the page to the next series of 2020, a quick two-game set against the Dodgers in Houston. The series opener will be Tuesday at 8:10 PM Central from Minute Maid Park and will feature the pitching matchup of Framber Valdez for the Astros going opposite of Walker Buehler for the Dodgers.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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