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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Houston gets the lopsided win

Valdez, Astros dominate the Angels in 10-0 rout in Anaheim

Framber Valdez was dominant against the Angels on Monday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a series win at home over the weekend, the Astros started their final regular-season road trip on Monday, squaring off against the Angels in Anaheim. They held the momentum firmly in their favor all night, dominating both sides of the game to start the series with a victory.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 0

Astros' Record: 89-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (11-5)

Losing Pitcher: Jaime Barria (2-4)

Siri leads off with a bang

With Jose Altuve being given the night off, Houston gave Jose Siri a shot at the leadoff spot, and he delivered to start the opener in Anaheim. He launched a missile to left field, 426 feet, to put the Astros in front 1-0 before the Angels could record an out. Later that same inning, they strung together three singles, the third being an RBI by Carlos Correa to double the lead.

Valdez goes seven shutout innings

That gave Framber Valdez a lead to work with as he stepped on the rubber in the bottom of the inning, and he didn't give it up as he would post a dominant start. He started with a 1-2-3 first, worked around a couple of singles in the second, then used a double play to face the minimum in the third.

He retired Los Angeles in order again in the fourth, stranded a two-out single in the fifth and a single and a walk in the sixth. He had his worst inning of the night in the seventh, giving up a leadoff single then loading the bases on back-to-back two-out walks. He'd escape the jam, though, keeping the shutout alive and finalizing his impressive line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 98 P.

Astros take the opener in lopsided fashion

Houston tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth, getting a one-out double by Correa to set up an RBI single by Marwin Gonzalez, pushing the lead to 3-0. Things escalated from there, as another single put two on base for Martin Maldonado, who blew the game open with a three-run homer to make it a six-run lead.

Brooks Raley took over for Valdez in the bottom of the inning, and with a 1-2-3 inning, made it his eighth appearance in a row without allowing a run. The Astros didn't let up in the top of the ninth, getting two hits and a walk to load the bases before a grand slam by Gonzalez made it 10-0 and gave him 5 RBI in a two-inning span. Seth Martinez, called up by the Astros earlier in the day, made his big-league debut in the bottom of the ninth and closed out the lopsided win to put Houston's magic number at 6.

Up Next: The second of this four-game set will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Tuesday. Jose Urquidy (7-3, 3.38 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, going opposite Packy Naughton (0-2, 4.32 ERA) for the Angels.

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