Houston had a pretty rough week, but things should be just fine

Shrug it off, Astros, it was just a bad week

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Last Sunday when you looked at the upcoming week of games, if you were like me you probably saw an opportunity for the Astros to overpower their opponents and stay in front of the Yankees as owners of the best record in the American League. Going into the series finale with the Orioles that day, they were also just a half-game behind the Dodgers for the best record in the league.

Things looked rough at first in that game with Baltimore, as Justin Verlander went on to post one of his worst starts of the season by allowing four runs over just five innings. But then, the Astros did what you would expect, they used their potent offense to get back into the game and in fact, took a two-run lead in the top of the ninth which looked to lock up the series sweep.

That's when things turned south for the Astros. Roberto Osuna blew the save, putting the Astros on the losing side of one of the biggest upsets in recent memory considering how poorly the Orioles have played this season. Still, it was just one game. Houston had a chance to move past that quickly with another game set in Chicago against the White Sox on Monday. The weather would work against Houston to ruin that plan, though, setting up a doubleheader on Tuesday.

Cole's missed start begins a tough stretch for the bullpen

The first game of Tuesday's doubleheader looked precisely like what Houston would have wanted on Monday night to erase the memory of the loss to Baltimore. Greinke went six innings while allowing just two runs, and he got some run support behind him, then the bullpen had three clean, quiet innings to shut things down.

Then, the first of Houston's bad luck started. Gerrit Cole's hamstring gave him discomfort during warmups for the second game of the doubleheader, and he would get scratched. Houston's bullpen, who had just used three of their arms in the first game, had to scramble for a full nine innings. While the collection of relievers allowed four runs, it was Houston's offense that disappointed in the loss, the first of a five-game skid.

One step forward, two steps back

One of the most frustrating parts of the losing streak was that multiple times Houston worked to get the momentum back in their favor with a successful offensive inning, only to see their opponent score in the next half-inning to halt that momentum in its tracks. While credit is due to the White Sox and A's who did a good job against Houston's pitching, it was not a normal thing that the Astros typically experience.

Look no further than the series finale with the White Sox. After trading blows back-and-forth most of the game, Houston received a big momentum boost with a game-tying two-run homer by Jose Altuve in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who had allowed just ten earned runs in the entire season so far, was on the mound in the bottom of the inning to hold things there and give the offense another crack at going ahead in the ninth. Instead, he had his worst inning of the season, allowing a grand slam which ultimately lost the game.

That was just one example where it seemed like Houston had the odds tilted against them. While the bullpen is still an area of concern for the Astros, this week was not merely their bad performers going out and letting the team down. It was an all-around tough week for all of Houston's pitching, and a compressed stretch for their bullpen to cover didn't help. Even Aaron Sanchez, who had been terrific in his first two starts with the Astros, had a tough game where he allowed six runs.

Losing streaks are part of the game

While losing streaks are incredibly frustrating, especially when a significant factor of them is only bad luck combined with not playing up to potential, they are bound to happen in a 162-game baseball season. Pair that with a team that's on 100-win pace whose losses are few and far between, and a losing streak of a few games can be perceived a little more drastic than they are. Had these losses been peppered throughout other weeks, these would have easily been games you look at and say, "Oh well, it just wasn't their day."

Things finally took a turn back to normal on Sunday when a good pitching day paired up with some timely offense, resulting in a much more standard game of Astros play which got them back in the win column. Luckily, Gerrit Cole looks to have avoided anything serious with his hamstring and should make his next start on Thursday against the Tigers at home.

They also activated Brad Peacock over the weekend, which means he will provide Houston's bullpen not only with a fresh arm but one that has been successful as a reliever in the past. More reinforcements for the bullpen appear to be on the way with Josh James working through his rehab tasks to make a return before the playoffs.

At the end of the day, a losing streak in August is not nearly as worrying as one in September. Considering the remaining schedule, I would fully expect that Houston goes on a considerable winning streak before another losing streak, and still have a significant chance of locking up the division early, finishing with 100+ wins, and potentially the best overall record.

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The Twins have lost 16 consecutive playoff games. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Astros 2020 redemption tour – better known as the Major League post-season - starts today with a quicky best-of-three series against the Minnesota Twins, kings of the American League Central division.

All games will be played at Target Field in Minneapolis. While the Twins had baseball's best home record, 24-7, and the Astros were roadkill with a disastrous 9-23 mark away from Minute Maid Park …

I'd still rather be us than them, and there are sweet 16 reasons why.

It's a hard-to-believe stat, but the Twins have lost 16 consecutive playoff games, the Major League record for post-season futility. You can look it up, the Twins were bamboozled 13 times by the Yankees and three times by the A's since 2003.

A more important date, however, is 1991, the last time the Twins sniffed the World Series. Most of the Twins' regulars, including Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario. Byron Buxton, Max Kepler weren't even born yet when the Twins last played in the Fall Classic. You know Newton's First Law, right? An object in motion stays in motion. With even a little effort, the Twins will extend their playoff losing streak to 18.

In the Astros dugout, all you have is experience under pressure. The Astros have seen the World Series from both sides – winning in 2017 and losing in 2019, sandwiched around another playoff appearance in 2018. The Astros succeed under the gun.

OK, this season the Astros are a rare playoff team with a losing record, 29-31, successfully managing to lose less than the Angels and Mariners. But thanks to an expanded playoff scheme concocted by commissioner Rob Manfred, 29-31 was good enough for second place in the American League West and automatic entry to the post-season. Hey, the Astros didn't make the rules, don't blame them.

The Twins are a heavy favorite to smack the Astros this week thanks to their regular-season record. That was then, this is now. It's a whole new ballgame, everybody's starting 0-0.

Look at today's starting pitchers (1 p.m. on ABC 13). The Twins are throwing Kenta Maeda, a pretty good pitcher for sure. We'll have Zack Greinke, a future Hall of Famer, with a lifetime 208-126 record. He's the winningest active pitcher and would have 209 wins if a certain bonehead manager left him in Game 7 of last year's World Series. And I say bonehead with love and admiration for dearly departed (from Houston) manager A.J. Hinch.

I like our chances in Game 2, too. The Twins will have Jose Barrios on the mound, the Astros are starting TBD. It's practically impossible to prepare for that guy TBD, so the Astros could wrap up the series in two games.

I'm sticking with the Astros in 2020. More important, the Astros are +150 on the money line today. The over/under is 7.5 runs. In the words of the world's greatest gambler, Cosmo Kramer, that's some sweet action.

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