Houston takes game one of this exciting series

Altuve leads the Astros offense to opener win over Giants

Astros' Jose Altuve
Jose Altuve drove in five runs on two homers in Friday's opener against the Giants. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Jose Altuve drove in five runs on two homers in Friday's opener against the Giants.

With the trade deadline come and gone, the Astros began a high-profile series with the Giants in San Francisco on Friday night. Thanks in part to a big night at the plate by Jose Altuve, they would get the impressive win to start the series in what could be a World Series preview.

Final Score: Astros 9, Giants 6

Astros' Record: 64-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (7-2)

Losing Pitcher: Kevin Gausman (9-5)

Altuve and Houston's offense build a lead

The Astros, as they have often done in recent matchups, were able to grab an immediate lead in the first inning. They worked three straight singles to start the game, the third an RBI by Yuli Gurriel. They went on to load the bases, setting up an RBI walk by Kyle Tucker to double the lead to 2-0 but would leave the bases loaded to end the frame.

After the Giants evened things up with a two-run third, Jose Altuve, who started the game with a single, homered in back-to-back at-bats in the fifth and sixth. The homer in the fifth was a solo go-ahead shot, but the louder of the two came in the top of the sixth. Houston loaded the bases in front of him, and Altuve took advantage with a grand slam to extend the lead to 7-2.

Valdez goes five innings

The game taking place in the NL ballpark of the Giants meant that Framber Valdez was not just pitching but also hitting. On the mound, he retired the first seven batters in a row before San Fransisco would get their two runs in the third on back-to-back RBI hits with one out. Valdez finished that inning and two more before being pinch-hit for in the top of the sixth ahead of Altuve's slam. His final line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 89 P.

Graveman makes a strong debut as Astros hold on to take the opener

That set up the start of the bullpen's night in the bottom of the sixth. Blake Taylor was first, and he allowed the Giants to trim a run off the lead with back-to-back doubles before finishing the inning. Ryne Stanek came in for the bottom of the seventh but would have a rough appearance as two runs would score on two singles, a walk, and an error, making it 7-5. That prompted a change to bring in Kendall Graveman to make his Astros debut, entering with two on and two out. He would get the third out, sending the game to the eighth, where Carlos Correa would give him another run to work with on an RBI double.

Graveman returned in the bottom of the inning, making a strong statement to finish off his first appearance with his new team by striking out the side to retire all four batters he faced. In the top of the ninth, Aledmys Diaz would help get one more run back for insurance, leading the inning off with a solo home run to make it a four-run game at 9-5. Ryan Pressly came in to try and close things out in the bottom of the ninth. Despite allowing a run on three straight hits to start the inning, he did so, finishing the win for Houston to start this three-game set.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be a 3:05 PM Central start on Saturday. Zack Greinke (10-3, 3.48 ERA) will try to get his eleventh win of the year for the Astros, while the Giants will send Alex Wood (9-3, 3.65 ERA) to the mound looking for his tenth.

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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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