Houston takes the opener against LA

Astros' big inning pushes them over the top against Angels

Astros' Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker
Alex Bregman was 3-for-4 with 4 RBI in Friday's game against the Angels. Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Alex Bregman was 3-for-4 with 4 RBI in Friday's game against the Angels.

After winning the series by taking two of three against the Mariners earlier in the week to keep their lead in the AL West intact, the Astros welcomed in a more beatable AL West foe on Friday in the Angels. They would endure some back-and-forth early in the game, ultimately using a big inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 82-58, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (10-5)

Losing Pitcher: Shohei Ohtani (9-2)

Teams trade runs early

There were plenty of runs to go around in the early stages of Friday's opener, with the Angels tagging Framber Valdez with an unusually poor start. They knocked solo homers in each the first and the second, with Shohei Ohtani starting the scoring in the top of the first with his to put the Angels in front 1-0.

The Astros put together a three-run go-ahead inning in the third, getting three straight two-out RBI hits: a single by Alex Bregman, a double by Yordan Alvarez, and then a single by Carlos Correa to grab a 3-2 lead. Los Angeles responded in the top of the fourth, retaking the lead with two RBI of their own against Valdez to make it 4-3. Valdez would go on to finish one more inning, with the Angels scoring another run on an error, finishing his night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 6 K, 2 HR, 97 P.

Houston scores six in the fourth

Valdez would still leave in line for the win despite the poor start, thanks to a huge fourth inning by his offense. They started by knocking Ohtani out of the game, putting two on base before getting a game-tying RBI single by Jose Altuve.

Both of Ohtani's runners would eventually score as the Angels' bullpen would give up a two-RBI double to Alex Bregman to give Houston the lead, then later allowed a run on catcher's interference and an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz, who started the frame by being hit by a pitch. The game remained at 9-5 until the bottom of the seventh, when Alex Bregman would get a one-out sac fly to put Houston at double digits, 10-5.

Astros take the opener

As far as Houston's bullpen went, Phil Maton entered to relieve Valdez in the top of the sixth, working around a one-out single for a scoreless inning. Brooks Raley was next, and he lasted two innings, both scoreless, to get through the seventh and eighth. Ryne Stanek took over in the top of the ninth and erased a leadoff single to finish Houston's win. The victory puts them in line for yet another series victory and keeps their lead in the division put as they start to consider their magic number as September reaches its mid-point.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game series will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. The pitching matchup is expected to be Jose Suarez (6-7, 3.74 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (10-6, 3.29 ERA) for Houston.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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