The Astros are off to a fast start. Bob Levey/Getty Images
Astros Weekly Recap - Week 1 (March 29th - April 8th)
Opening "week" of the MLB season, which was really a week and a half, is in the books. The Astros have already checked 10 games off the calendar, so let's get right into them:
Thursday, March 29th: 0-0 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 0-0 Rangers (Cole Hamels)
The Astros got out to a hot start on Opening Day with a back-to-back season-starting home run by World Series MVP George Springer. They would go on to tack a few more runs and get a strong start from Justin Verlander to start the season off with a victory. You can read a more in-depth breakdown of the game in my Opening Day article.
Final Score: Astros 4, Rangers 1
Friday, March 30th: 1-0 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 0-1 Rangers (Doug Fister)
Dallas Keuchel did not have the same hot start to his season like Verlander the day before. It wasn't an exceptionally horrible start, but it was evident that he did not have the dominant stuff we are used to seeing when he's fully on his game. After giving up a solo home run to Nomar Mazara in the second, Keuchel struggled in the fourth inning when he loaded the bases with no outs, allowing the Rangers to hit a couple of sac flies to go up 3-0 on the Astros. He would go on to finish six innings with three earned runs and earn his first loss of the early season. The Astros' lone run of the game came in the top of the fifth on an RBI double by Max Stassi, but it was a moot point as the Rangers would score two more runs off of new Astros reliever Joe Smith in the seventh to send them on to the win and even the series at a game apiece. Former Astro Doug Fister would get the win for the Rangers.
Final Score: Astros 1, Rangers 5
Saturday, March 31st: 1-1 Astros (McCullers Jr.) vs. 1-1 Rangers (Matt Moore)
After being held to just one run the day prior, the Astros' offense took control of the game in Arlington in game three of the four-game set. They jumped on top early, getting three runs in the second inning on an RBI single from Brian McCann and a two-run home run by Jake Marisnick. They would add one more and take a 4-0 lead in the third with an RBI double by Marwin Gonzalez. Lance McCullers Jr. had a decent start to his 2018 campaign, giving up just one run in his first five innings of work which came on a solo shot by Elvis Andrus in the third inning. McCullers Jr. would go on to give up a second run in the sixth inning before being pulled, ending his day at 5.1 innings pitched, 2 runs earned but struck out 10 batters thanks in part to his dangerously effective curveball. The Astros' bats stayed hot during the game, eventually pulling out to a 9-2 lead highlighted by a two-run home run from Carlos Correa in the top of the seventh. The Rangers were able to get one run back off of Tony Sipp in the eighth to make it 9-3 but were unable to get any closer as the Astros went on to close out the dominating win.
Final Score: Astros 9, Rangers 3
Sunday, April 1st: 2-1 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 1-2 Rangers (Mike Minor)
Easter Sunday's series finale between the Astros and Rangers would be highlighted by the highly anticipated start of new Astros starter Gerrit Cole. Cole would not disappoint, overcoming a first-inning solo home run by Joey Gallo to go on and dominate the Rangers for seven full innings and struck out eleven in his Astros debut. After finding themselves down 1-0 through the first four innings, Houston's bats came back to life as they went on to score seven unanswered runs between the fifth and seventh innings, including two RBIs from Evan Gattis, who would go on to add a third in the ninth for the Astros' eighth run to notch a three-RBI day. The Rangers managed to get a run off of Chris Devenski in the eighth thanks to a solo home run by Drew Robinson, but it was too little, too late thanks to a seemingly rare perfect inning from Ken Giles in the ninth to close out the win and give the Astros the 3-1 series win to start the season.
Final Score: Astros 8, Rangers 2
Monday, April 2nd: 1-2 Orioles (Chris Tillman) vs 3-1 Astros (Charlie Morton)
The home opener in Houston on Monday went about as perfect (other than the botched banner reveal, of course) as the Astros could have hoped. This was in large part due to Charlie Morton picking right up where he left off last year: dominating on the mound. Morton threw six great innings during which he allowed just three hits to Baltimore while striking out six, a performance that would earn him his first win of the year. He had good run support behind him, too as the Astros' offense would string together six runs on eleven hits including a solo home run by Marwin Gonzalez in the bottom of the fourth. Baltimore's only run of the game came in the ninth on a Trey Mancini home run off of Colin McHugh before McHugh was able to close out the first home win at Minute Maid Park on championship banner night.
Final Score: Orioles 1, Astros 6
Tuesday, April 3rd: 1-3 Orioles (Mike Wright Jr.) vs 4-1 Astros (Justin Verlander)
Tuesday night was the championship ring ceremony for the Astros, a night many of the players had to have been dreaming about not only since Nov. 1 of last year but probably since the first time they picked up a bat and glove. The game ended up being a back-and-forth affair as the Orioles were able to get to Verlander in quite possibly his worst start as an Astro so far. Baltimore jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a Jonathan Schoop solo home run, but Houston answered right back with a two-run inside-the-park home run by Carlos Correa who was back in the lineup Tuesday night after leaving Monday night's game early with toe discomfort. Correa got another RBI in the third with a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 3-1 before the Orioles regained the lead by scoring on a sac fly in the fourth and two-run home run by Adam Jones in the sixth, making it 4-3 Baltimore. Josh Reddick answered with a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the sixth, giving the Astros the lead back 5-4 before an Adam Jones RBI single in the next inning to tie it up 5-5. Houston would get the difference-maker in the bottom of the seventh, a grand slam for Josh Reddick to put the Astros ahead 10-5, a lead they were able to hold on to as the bullpen combination of Chris Devenski, Hector Rondon, Will Harris, and Joe Smith would close out the game while allowing just one run.
Final Score: Orioles 6, Astros 10
Wednesday, April 4th: 1-4 Orioles (Dylan Bundy) vs. 5-1 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)
In the series finale on Wednesday afternoon, Dallas Keuchel got the start at home, a place he is notoriously dominant. Although still not completely lights-out, Keuchel had a much better start than his first of the year, allowing just two runs, one each earned and unearned, in five innings of work. Those two runs made it a 2-1 game when Keuchel exited after Houston's offense was held to a single run in the first five innings, an RBI groundout by Jake Marisnick. They would tie the game in sixth on a sac fly by Marwin Gonzalez before breaking the tie with an RBI single by Alex Bregman in the seventh to make it 3-2, a score which would hold up thanks to a scoreless inning from Hector Rondon and three strong innings from Brad Peacock out of the bullpen to seal up the series sweep and give the Astros a 6-1 record through their first seven games.
Final Score: Orioles 2, Astros 3
Friday, April 6th: 1-6 Padres (Luis Perdomo) vs. 6-1 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.)
After their first day off on Thursday, the Astros were unable to get their bats going on Friday night against the struggling Padres. San Diego got on top right away, scoring a run on a passed ball to take a 1-0 lead. The Astros tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Correa, but that would be their one and only run of the night. The Padres, after getting to McCullers Jr. in the first, did the same in the fifth to take a 3-1 lead after a two-RBI double by Jose Pirela. San Diego would add one more insurance run off of Ken Giles in the ninth, but it would be unneeded as the Padres would hold the Astros to just one run on four hits in a loss to start the series.
Final Score: Padres 4, Astros 1
Saturday, April 7th: 2-6 Padres (Bryan Mitchell) vs 6-2 Astros (Gerrit Cole)
The Padres would join the Astros in experiencing offensive struggles as both teams were unable to mount anything substantial in Saturday night's game. The Padres were kept in check thanks to a second consecutive flawless performance from Gerrit Cole, who again went seven innings during which he struck out eleven. San Diego's starter Mitchell was also strong, getting through five and two-thirds innings before giving way to the Padres' bullpen. Both bullpens held the game scoreless through nine innings, sending the game to extras. It was in the bottom of the tenth that the Padres committed one of the worst blunders of the early MLB season. After a single by Brian McCann, Derek Fisher was brought in to run and stole second to get into scoring position with no outs. After a lineout and strikeout, Fisher was still on second, with Alex Bregman coming up to the plate. Bregman hit a lazy fly ball to the shallow part of the first-base side of the infield, where three Padres led by Eric Hosmer all ran in, yet none caught the ball, allowing Fisher who was already on the run with two outs to come across home and score the winning run of one of the most unconventional walk-offs you'll ever see.
Final Score: Padres 0, Astros 1
Sunday, April 8th: 2-7 Padres (Tyson Ross) vs 7-2 Astros (Charlie Morton)
The series finale on Sunday afternoon looked to be another low-scoring game early, as both Tyson Ross and Charlie Morton were in control of their games holding the opposing offense scoreless through four innings. The scoring started in a big way in the bottom of the fifth when Max Stassi launched a three-run home run off of the wall above the Crawford Boxes to give the Astros a 3-0 lead. San Diego would get a run of its own in the top of the sixth to make it 3-1 but would be unable to come any closer. Josh Reddick continued to stay hot at the plate and gave the Astros an insurance run with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to make it 4-1, which would be the final score after three hitless innings by Will Harris, Joe Smith, and Brad Peacock, who earned the save.
Final Score: Padres 1, Astros 4
Summary: The Astros have started out very strong to start the season, going 8-2 in their first ten games thanks in part to a strong starting rotation and timely offense. There is some concern to be had about their offensive struggles at home against the weak Padres, but I'm not going to be the one to have an overreaction like many of us did early last year which made us look silly once they got into their groove and blew the league away on offense. The rotation has looked solid, though I think Keuchel needs to get that first win under his belt to get him settled in and relaxed. Newcomers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon have both looked like solid additions to the bullpen other than Smith's one bad inning against the Rangers where he gave up a couple of runs. It will be interesting to see how the bullpen shakes out since Ken Giles is in no way showing signs of being trusted with the closer role. All in all, the Astros have done well so far and should continue to outperform most of the league with their stacked roster.
MVP of the Week - Gerrit Cole: Cole is the player of the first ten games that has impressed me the most. With all of the hype and expectations surely on him after the big off-season trade, he has delivered in a big way to prove that his cost was worth it. In his two starts so far he has gone a combined 14 innings with 22 strikeouts while allowing just one run, earning himself a stellar 0.64 ERA. He has the potential to have starts like this all season long, and with this offense behind him, could rack up a ton of wins.
- Mon-Wed: Astros (8-2) @ Twins (4-3)
- Fri-Sat: Rangers (4-7) @ Astros (8-2)
The Astros will kick off a three-game series in Minnesota tonight against the Twins who currently sit atop the AL Central with a 4-3 record. Temperatures are expected to be near-freezing for Monday's game with Tuesday being only slightly warmer, so that may play a factor in how these teams play. The Astros will have an off day Thursday before a weekend series with the Rangers, who they will be seeing a lot of considering they will play each other 16 times before the All-Star break. With two starts by Verlander in this week's slate, it would be a surprise if they don't go 4-2 or better and win both series.
Houston Astros skipper Joe Espada wasted no time this week at spring training by answering one of the most talked about questions of the offseason.
Espada revealed that newly-acquired free agent Josh Hader will be the team's closer and will pitch the ninth inning, with Ryan Pressly working as the setup man.
Bryan Abreu will be tapped to pitch the seventh inning, but it wouldn't shock anyone if he had the best season of the three. But after Abreu, things get interesting in the bullpen.
Who pitches the sixth inning?
Astros GM Dana Brown gave Rafael Montero a vote of confidence, saying he's “legit.”
While we have our concerns about Montero after he finished with an ERA over five last year, there's reason for hope. The nature of relief pitchers halving up and down seasons from year to year could work in Montero's favor.
And with the salary that's already committed to him, Brown will likely give him every opportunity to justify his contract. It will be fascinating to see how Espada deploys him early on. You have to think with the boss man backing Montero, Espada will be on board too.
But if he does struggle, will Espada quickly stop using him in critical situations? The good news is, the team won't often have to turn to him in high leverage situations with Abreu, Pressly, and Hader ready to handle those duties.
Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion about the Astros 'pen, and much more!
Don't miss Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel!