Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
In a long-awaited return to baseball, the Houston Astros were able start the shortened 2020 season with a win at home over the visiting Mariners. Justin Verlander allowed a couple of solo home runs in an otherwise solid start, earning him his first win of the year after Houston's offense backed him up with some strong middle innings.
Final Score: Astros 8, Mariners 2.
Record: 1-0, first in the AL West.
Winning pitcher: Justin Verlander (1-0, 3.00 ERA).
Losing pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (0-1, 6.23 ERA).
Astros and Mariners trade runs early
After a quiet first inning of the game, both in terms of offense and the eerily silent, empty stadium, the Mariners struck first with Kyle Lewis crushing a ball to the train tracks in the top of the second inning off of Justin Verlander.
Josh Reddick notched Houston's first hit of the night to lead off the bottom of the third, drilling a ball to the right-center field wall for a double. He moved to third on a groundball for the first out, then scored on an RBI-single by Martin Maldonado, the first run of the season to tie the game 1-1.
In the top of the fourth, with Verlander looking to have settled in, Seattle got their second hit and second solo home run as Kyle Seager pushed the Mariners back in front 2-1.
Big fifth inning pushes Houston ahead
In the bottom of the fifth, Aledmys Diaz led the inning off with a single, then moved to third on a defensive error before scoring to tie the game 2-2 on an RBI-single by Jose Altuve. That set up a big inning of offense with Alex Bregman hitting a go-ahead RBI-single to make it 3-2 before Michael Brantley launched a three-run home run to extend the new lead 6-2.
They added even further to the lead in the bottom of the next inning, getting a one-out double by Abraham Toro. He came in for Aledmys Diaz in the DH spot after Diaz left with discomfort, a word that is all too familiar to Astros fans over the last year or so. Toro scored on Maldonado's second RBI, a single to extend the lead to five runs at 7-2.
Verlander meanwhile was able to limit Seattle to just their two solo home runs and one other hit over his six innings of work, starting his season off with a decent game to earn his first win. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7K, 2 HR.
Two debuts out of the bullpen close things out
Chris Devenski was the first reliever to take the mound, working around a two-out double by striking out the side in the top of the seventh, while Carlos Correa drove in his first run on an RBI-double to make it 8-2 in the bottom half.
Blake Taylor made his major-league debut out of the bullpen in the top of the eighth, and he too was able to keep Seattle off the board with a quick nine-pitch inning and held the lead at six runs. That set up Enoli Paredes, who was also making his debut, to close things out in the ninth, and he did so as Houston grabbed a 1-0 start to the year.
Up Next: Game two of this four-game set between the Astros and Mariners will be in Houston tomorrow at 3:10 PM Central. The starting pitching matchup will be Taijuan Walker for Seattle, going up against Lance McCullers Jr. for Houston. McCullers will be making his first start since 2018 after sitting out the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery.
Scott Boras, the agent for both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, says there’s “been an expression of desire” by the Astros to sign their star players to contract extensions this offseason, “but obviously that’s not something we’ve approached yet.”
For the Astros part, general manager Dana Brown says, “I think we’re going to look into talking to both of them, particularly this offseason, maybe all the way up to spring training. Once the season starts we really don’t want to get too much into it.”
What does all this mean beyond the time-honored posturing of greedy agent versus penny-pinching team?
It means that the Astros haven’t crunched their numbers down to pennies and are figuring out how much and for how long they can offer Altuve and Bregman for future services.
They better get it right this time. Last year’s offseason contract dangling came back to bite the Astros butts in 2023. Without a proper general manager in place, the Astros biggest free agent signings were first baseman Jose Abreu (3 years, $58.5 million), reliever Rafael Montero (3 years, $34.5 million) and “professional hitter” but mostly injured list resident Michael Brantley (1 year, $12 million). Although Abreu’s bat woke up in late season, all three signings were disappointments.
The Astros better get it right with Altuve and Bregman, both of whose contracts expire at the end of next season. If the Astros dawdle and try to buy cheap, or agent Boras plays hard to get and lets Altuve and Bregman get to free agency (as Boras is famous for doing with his clients), then look out below.
While Altuve is (let’s stop with the “may be”) the greatest Astro ever, the days of players accepting a hometown discount are over. Altuve will turn 34 next season. He would still be in his prime with lots of tread on his tires. He is beloved in Houston. He looks like Houston. He hits in the clutch. Everything about Altuve is good.
There will be civil unrest in Houston if the Astros don’t lock up Altuve for the rest of his career.
Bregman is a more complicated deal. The third baseman will be 31 next season. If he gets to free agency, teams will have to take a number to get in line to meet with Boras. While the Astros are loathe to offer deals for more than $150 million and longer than four or five years, well, they better get over that if they want to keep Bregman.
If Bregman gets to free agency, you can imagine the Yankees backing up a Brinks truck to sign him. Bregman in New York? Young mothers would be handing him their babies to raise. They’d be naming streets and buildings after him – there may be a few properties available soon. Bregman and his wife Reagan would be hosting Good Morning New York. He’d be throwing out the Opening Day ceremonial first pitch to himself.
Last season Manny Machado signed an 11-year extension worth $350 million with the San Diego Padres. The deal includes a no-trade clause with no op-outs. Machado will be 41 when the contract is up. Machado is a superstar, right? And that’s the kind of money that superstars get, right?. You want to know something? Machado ain’t got nothing on Alex Bregman.
Machado’s lifetime batting average is .279. His career on-base percentage is .339. His slugging is .490. His OPS is .829.
Bregman’s lifetime batting average is .274. His career on-base percentage is .373. His slugging is .487. His OPS is .861.
They’re basically the same player. If anything, let’s give the edge to Bregman because he’s a year younger. When the playoffs roll around, Bregman has Machado beat by a wide margin.
You’re on the clock, Astros.
Sure, the Astros have let star players go before. You remember Carlos Correa, George Springer and Gerrit Cole? They used to play here. The Astros didn’t make serious offers to keep any of them.
Plus the Astros have to look beyond 2024 when they’ll have to pony up with Kyle Tucker or get off the pot. Framber Valdez, Chas McCormick and others are waiting for their crack at big money, too. That’s the problem with baseball – other teams want good players, too.
But that’s then, this is now, and the Astros better get it done with Altuve and Bregman or they’ll lose all the goodwill they’ve established with Houston these past years.