Houston stays hot

Astros wallop A's again in home opener

Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Yordan Alvarez Celebrating
Houston's bats kept mashing in the home opener. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Houston's bats kept mashing in the home opener

After starting their year with six games on the road, the Astros returned home for their home opener on Thursday night, against the A's, who they had faced for the first four games of the season in Oakland. They hoped to have a similar outcome, with Houston sweeping the series to start 4-0 and dropping one of their AL West rivals to a tough 0-4. Indeed they would, giving the home fans at Minute Maid Park a lot to cheer about in another lopsided win.

Final Score: Astros 6, A's 2

Astros' Record: 6-1, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Cole Irvin (0-2)

Javier goes five shutout innings

Doing much better than his first start of the year, Cristian Javier managed to pitch himself into position for the win in his second. He was electric in the first three innings, retiring the first eight batters he faced, five on strikeouts. He went on to allow just three hits, giving his team five scoreless innings. Javier's final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 88 P.

Houston's high-power offense stays hot

Much like their high-scoring games against the A's last weekend, Houston kept plating runs against Oakland in this one. The first two runs came off the bat of Carlos Correa, one on a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the second, the other a one-out RBI-double in the fourth.

They expanded their lead by three runs in the bottom of the sixth, with Yordan Alvarez getting his second homer of the year, a solo shot, then Myles Straw bringing in two more on a two-RBI single. Jose Altuve's first hit of the night was a loud one, a 426-foot solo homer to extend the lead to 6-0.

Astros get the lopsided win

After Javier's five innings, Ryne Stanek would take over and retire four batters in a row to get one out into the seventh. Blake Taylor finished that inning, then Enoli Paredes entered for the top of the eighth. Paredes would walk back-to-back batters before leaving mid-at-bat with an injury.

Joe Smith would make the quick entry, doing well to erase those two walks and keep the A's off the board to complete the top of the eighth. Brooks Raley had the ninth and finished off the win, despite allowing two runs to get Oakland on the board, to improve Houston to 6-1 on the year, sending Oakland to 1-7.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday. The Astros will send Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0, 1.80 ERA) to the mound for his second start, while Oakland will turn to Sean Manaea (0-1, 9.64 ERA), whom the Astros scored five runs on in the finale in Oakland.

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It's not time to panic, yet. Composite Getty Image.

This is not a column for fanboys or sugarcoating. To this point in the season the Astros stink like rotten eggs. They stink like Angel Hernandez’s umpiring. They stink like Bill O'Brien's general manager skills. The Astros are a bad team right now. That’s notably different from being a bad team. Their 4-10 record is well-earned and it is definitely possible that the Astros’ run of high quality and annual playoff appearances crashes and burns this season. But it’s laughable to declare so after just 14 games of the 162 scheduled have been played.

Last June the Astros had a lousy window in which they went 3-10. In August they had a 4-8 funk. In September it was a 3-9 stretch of collapse. The 2022 World Series Champions had a 3-8 hiccup in April, and a 2-6 blotch overlapping July and August that included getting swept in a three-game series by the then and now awful Oakland A’s.

Now the Astros are back home (Oh No!) for six games, three vs. the Rangers then three with the Braves. The Rangers lead the American League West but are just 7-6, so despite their cellar-dwelling status, the Astros are just three and a half games out of first. A winning homestand is obviously the goal. No, really. 3-3 would be ok, even though that would just about clinch a losing record heading into May.

Mandatory aside: spectacular weather is the Friday night forecast. Stop being stubborn and lame, Astros. Open the roof! I don’t mean just for the postgame fireworks.

On the mend?

The Astros’ track record of downplaying pitching injuries that turned out to be major certainly causes angst as we await Framber Valdez’s return from a sore elbow. If Valdez ultimately winds up out for months, the Astros’ starting rotation is in deep trouble. Even more so if upon the approaching delayed start to his season, 41-year-old Justin Verlander pitches to his age in terms of results and/or durability. However, if Valdez is ok within a month and JV is solid, those two, and Cristian Javier can stabilize the rotation quite nicely.

The Astros started three guys in the last four games who belong in the minor leagues. It was a sad sign of the times that the Astros were reduced to calling up Blair Henley to make the start Monday in Arlington. Except for Rangers fans and Astros haters, it grew uncomfortable watching Henley give up four hits, walk three, record just one out, and wind up charged with seven earned runs. But it’s not Henley’s fault that he was thrust into a role for which he was utterly unqualified.

Last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Henley’s earned run average was 5.06. Because of the crummy state of the Astros’ farm system, Henley failed up to Triple-A Sugar Land to start this season. After one not good start for the Space Cowboys, “Hey, go get out big leaguers Blair!” Henley turns 27 next month, he is not a prospect of any note. If he never again pitches in the majors Henley forever carries a 135.00 ERA.

But you know what? It was still a great day for the guy. Even if undeserved, Henley made “The Show.” For one day on the Astros’ 26-man roster, Henley made over four thousand dollars. To make him eligible for call up, the Astros first had to put Henley on their 40-man roster and sign him to a split contract. That means that until/unless the Astros release him, Henley’s AAA salary jumps from approximately $36,000 for the season to over 60K.

Lastly, while Henley’s ERA could remain 135.00 in perpetuity, at least he’s no Fred Bruckbauer. In 1961 Bruckbauer made his big league debut and bade his big league farewell in the same game. He faced four batters, giving up three earned runs on three hits and one walk. Career ERA: Infinity! Bruckbauer is the most recent of the more than a dozen pitchers to retire with the infinity ERA.

Spencer Arrighetti’s debut start went much better. For two innings, before it unraveled in a seven run Royals third. Arrighetti has good stuff, but not great stuff. Control has been an issue for him in the minor leagues. Without better command Arrighetti cannot be a plus starter in the majors.

Then there’s Hunter Brown. We could go decades without seeing another pitcher give up nine runs and 11 hits in two-thirds of an inning as Brown did Thursday. It had never happened in MLB history! To this point, Brown is an overhyped hope. ERA last July: 5.92, August: 6.23, September 1 on: 8.74. Three starts into 2024: 16.43.

Jose Abreu watch

It's still early enough in the season that even just a couple of big games can markedly improve a stat line but Jose Abreu continues to look washed up at the plate. Three hits in 37 at bats (.081 batting average), with the most recent hit a questionable official scoring decision. Manager Joe Espada has already dropped Abreu from fifth in the lineup to sixth, then seventh, then eighth. Two more slots down to go, Joe! Continuing to act like Jon Singleton could be a competent bat in the lineup is just silly though.

Catch the weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week now generally goes up after Sunday’s game (second part released Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTubewith the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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