ASTROS REPORT

Astros' winning streak snapped during an otherwise productive week

Yuli Gurriel had a big week. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After a perfect 10-0 road trip and eleven straight wins, the Astros headed back to Houston for a homestand as their stretch of winnable games continued. Here's how the week went:

Monday, June 18th: 33-38 Rays (Ryne Stanek) vs. 48-25 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

The Astros found themselves in a hole early in their return home to start the week on Monday night as Gerrit Cole gave up another long ball, a two-run homer to the Rays to give them a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Cole allowed two more runs in the third after issuing three consecutive walks with one out before allowing a two-RBI single to make it 4-0 Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the Rays took an unorthodox route by putting out a reliever, Ryne Stanek, to start the game on the mound. He retired five batters on eleven pitches before the Rays went to another reliever. Houston was able to trim the lead in half with RBIs from Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick in the bottom of the fourth, making it 4-2. Gurriel added another RBI to his night and continued his recent hot streak at the plate to make it 4-3 in the bottom of the sixth. After the early homer and two-run single, Cole locked in and held the Rays without a hit over the next four innings, finishing his night with seven innings including eight strikeouts. Will Harris pitched a scoreless eighth, and the Astros threatened to tie the game with Jose Altuve on third with just one out in the bottom half but came out empty handed. Collin McHugh pitched a perfect top of the ninth, then the offense got to work with a walk and single to start the inning, a sac bunt to move them, then catcher's interference to load the bases. Alex Bregman played the hero, blasting a perfect shot to the gap in left-center to walk it off and earn Houston their twelfth win in a row, matching the franchise record, and overcoming the strategy of Tampa Bay to use seven pitchers to try and get through the game.
Final Score: Rays 4, Astros 5

Tuesday, June 19th: 33-39 Rays (Blake Snell) vs. 49-25 Astros (Justin Verlander)

After matching the franchise record at twelve on Monday, Houston would be unable to beat it on Tuesday, coming up just short in a great effort by Tampa Bay to snap the Astros winning streak. It was a strong pitching matchup with the aces from both teams going head-to-head. Tampa Bay struck first, getting a solo homer off of Justin Verlander to take a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Alex Bregman tied things up with an RBI-single in the bottom of the third, locking things up at 1-1 where it stayed for a while. Both pitchers were dominant, with Verlander going six and two-thirds innings while Blake Snell completed seven innings for the Rays. The difference in the game came down to a leadoff double against Hector Rondon in the top of the eight which resulted in a run after a groundout and RBI single to make it 2-1. Despite two hits in the ninth inning, Tampa Bay's bullpen held, giving Houston their first loss in thirteen games. 
Final Score: Rays 2, Astros 1

Wednesday, June 20th: 34-39 Rays (Nathan Eovaldi) vs. 49-26 Astros (Charlie Morton)

Charlie Morton had a rough first inning on Wednesday night, loading the bases with two outs after a double, walk, and hit by pitch. Luckily for him, Tony Kemp made an amazing diving catch to save some runs and end the inning. The Rays got on the board first as a result of an error by Yuli Gurriel after an attempt to throw across from first to third left the ball in the outfield. Jose Altuve tied things up with a blast to the train tracks in the bottom of the inning, tying the game 1-1. George Springer broke the tie in the bottom of the sixth with a solo shot of his own that was crushed to center field, then Alex Bregman made it back-to-back dingers, making it a 3-1 Houston lead. Altuve joined the party as the next batter, hitting his second home run of the game to make it back-to-back-to-back home runs, extending the lead to 4-1. Despite the trouble in a few innings, Morton had a strong start, finishing six innings while allowing just two hits resulting in one unearned run. Evan Gattis hit a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh, moved to third on a groundout, then scored on an RBI by Tony Kemp, making it 5-1 to give the Astros some extra cushion. Brad Peacock pitched a perfect seventh, Chris Devenski worked around a leadoff single in the eighth with a strikeout and double play, then Ken Giles finished the game in the ninth to give the Astros the series win.
Final Score: Rays 1, Astros 5

Friday, June 22nd: 22-52 Royals (Danny Duffy) vs. 50-26 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

The series opener with the Royals on Friday night was a battle to see who could actually score a runner in scoring position. Both starting pitchers did well, with Danny Duffy going six scoreless innings and keeping Houston to just two hits, while Dallas Keuchel also went six innings and allowed six hits. That left the final three innings up to the bullpens. Houston kept the game scoreless with innings from Chris Devenski in the seventh and Hector Rondon in the eighth, while Kansas City continued to spoil the Astros' chances inducing a great catch at the wall to rob Alex Bregman of a homer in the bottom of the eighth which would've been the go-ahead run. It came down to the ninth inning, where Ken Giles allowed the one and only run of the night which sent Kansas City on to the win on a night where the Astros stranded nine runners and went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position. 
Final Score: Royals 1, Astros 0

Saturday, June 23rd: 23-52 Royals (Ian Kennedy) vs. 50-27 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.)

Saturday's game was on pace to be another low-scoring matchup as both pitchers had no-hitters going through three innings. The Royals struck first, though, with the first two hits of the game in the top of the fourth before Lance McCullers was stung with a three-run homer to set up a 3-0 hole for Houston. The Astros finally scored their first run since the bottom of the seventh in Wednesday's game on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Correa in the bottom of the third before Yuli Gurriel followed that with a solo home run on his bobblehead night, trimming the lead to one at 3-2. If not for the one pitch that resulted in three runs, McCullers would have otherwise had a solid night, striking out nine batters over his six innings and allowing four hits. Ian Kennedy for Kansas City also had a strong night, going seven innings and keeping the Astros to just the two runs. The 3-2 score held all the way until the ninth when the Astros tied the game on an Evan Gattis sac fly, though were unable to walk it off, sending the game to extras. Both bullpens started strong in extra innings, but it was a costly error by Kansas City in the bottom of the twelfth that was the difference maker, allowing the Astros to get into scoring position before Carlos Correa walked things off for the win. It was a great showing by Houston's bullpen, who after the six innings from McCullers got strong innings from Brad Peacock, Tony Sipp, and Will Harris, two from Chris Devenski in the tenth and eleventh, and one from Collin McHugh who earned the win in the twelfth. 
Final (12 innings): Royals 3, Astros 4

Sunday, June 24th: 23-53 Royals (Jason Hammel) vs. 51-27 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Houston put a strong conclusion to the week with a huge second inning in Sunday's series finale against the Royals. The Astros would walk away with eight runs in that inning, which started with a double by Yuli Gurriel to get things going. They scored runs on a catcher's interference, RBI walk by Alex Bregman, a two-RBI single from Jose Altuve, and a grand slam by Gurriel to cap off the abysmal inning from Jason Hammel. Kansas City got one run back in the top of the fourth on another home run given up by Gerrit Cole. Cole only allowed that one run, but after several extended at-bats forced by Kansas City found himself at 104 pitches after just five innings, ending his day early. Houston added one more run in the fourth inning on an error, Kansas City's second of that inning, making it 9-1. Collin McHugh, after being awarded the win Saturday night for his work in the twelfth inning, came on after Cole to pitch the sixth and seventh innings, allowing one run to make it 9-2. Max Stassi made it double-digits in the bottom of the seventh, scoring Jake Marisnick from first on an RBI double, extending the lead to 10-2. The Royals got another run in the top of the eighth, giving Tony Sipp his first earned run since May 7 and breaking his streak of 14 appearances without a run. Evan Gattis got the run right back with a solo homer launched over the Crawford boxes in the bottom of the inning, making it 11-3, which held after a shutout ninth inning by Ken Giles to wrap up another series win.
Final Score: Royals 3, Astros 11

Summary: Arguments could be made that 4-2 is a little bit disappointing when facing the Rays and Royals, but nonetheless it's a winning week with two series wins. Both losses came on nights when the offense went quiet and couldn't capitalize with runners in scoring position, something they'll have to clean up as the season goes on. Overall, the pitching this week was very strong, with starters and relievers coming up big in key spots and otherwise being consistently strong. Dallas Keuchel has put together some strong starts recently, with Friday night being one of his best of the year, showing he may have shrugged off his recent struggles and returned to form. Gerrit Cole has given up too many homers recently, which will need to become more infrequent so that it doesn't bleed into the playoffs and ruin close games. After fighting tooth and nail for the AL West lead with Houston, the Mariners finally succumbed to some strong opponents, allowing the Astros to take over with a 4.5 game advantage. 

MVP of the Week - Yuli Gurriel:

This week it was Yuli Gurriel who had one of the biggest impacts on offense. A huge part of it was the grand slam on Sunday, but Gurriel was there all week getting 8 hits in 23 at-bats for a .348 average over the six games. Two of those hits were home runs, which helped boost him to a weekly total of seven RBIs while he came across to score three times himself. His recent hot streak has helped put a spark in the middle of the order which has helped score guys that get on base ahead of him or get momentum going for the bottom of the lineup, which is a big boost for the team.

This Week:

  • Mon-Wed: (36-41) Blue Jays @ (52-27) Astros
  • Thu-Sat: (52-27) Astros @ (37-40) Rays

The Astros will wrap up their nine-game homestand to start this week with three games against Toronto who, despite being 6-4 in their last ten games, find themselves 15 games back in the AL East. Houston will then head to Tampa Bay to face another AL East opponent and finish the seven-game season series versus the Rays with four games Thursday through Sunday. Although the Rays just swept the Yankees over the weekend, these are still highly winnable games, so expect the Astros to keep stringing wins together and hopefully extend their AL West lead during the full week of games.

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The Texans have a big decision to make. Composite image by Jack Brame

The last few weeks have brought us some very interesting episodes of "As Kirby Turns." Cal McNair has admitted he hasn't spoken with Deshaun Watson and has also doubled down on his affinity for Jack Easterby by saying he's staying around. The franchise's only member of their Ring of Honor, Andre Johnson, came completely out of character by tweeting his support for Watson to "stand his ground" in what most assume is his desire to play elsewhere. Newly hired general manager Nick Caserio has the hardest job in the NFL because he's basically a one leg man in a bleep kicking contest. National and local media are all floating rumors and opinions about Watson's status with the team. Meanwhile, Watson himself has been cryptic and hasn't come out and said one thing either way about his status with the team.

My opinion is that he won't be traded and this is his way of using the leverage he has to get some things done his way to ensure more of his career won't be wasted. Once they hire a head coach he approves of and they talk, he'll be back in the fold and blow things over by saying he never demanded a trade and was only upset about some things due to miscommunication. Blah blah blah. However, where there's smoke, there must be fire. I'll examine some pros and cons to a potential trade of Watson.

Bad news first. This franchise has waited its entire existence for a franchise quarterback like Watson. Finally getting one and having to deal him amidst the bumbling owner and charlatan right-hand man would be a big blow to overcome. This coming year is shaping up to be difficult as it is, but doing so with Watson wearing a different jersey could prove to be a near fatal blow. It would take an additional year or so to recover. The only way this timeline is expedited, is if they get a quarterback back in the trade or with one of the draft picks that they feel can be the man moving forward.

The bright side. Watson is this team's most attractive asset as it looks to rebuild. There are teams in the top five of this year's draft who need quarterbacks, and a couple of them have multiple first round picks. The Jets, #2 and #23 overall in the first round this draft, are the most intriguing destination because they may be bad next season with Watson if you get that pick in the trade as well. Throw in Sam Darnold, who's still young and salvageable, and this could be a hard reset that may not take as long. The Dolphins, #3 and #18 overall this draft, also have a lot to offer. Rumor has it Watson would like to go to Miami in a deal that includes Tua Tagovailoa, who was a guy Caserio liked when entering the draft. Again, another potential hard reset that may not take long if either young quarterback pans out. You could also trade back from those top slots to acquire more picks to help fill some of the many holes you have.

I reiterate, I do not believe Watson will be traded. I'm not even sure his no trade clause is applicable since he's still under his rookie contract and his extension hasn't kicked in yet. The new CBA rules call for stiffer penalties for players who refuse to report, so a holdout is highly unlikely. I'll be glad when they hire a coach Watson likes, and we get the happy family press conference introducing him, so this soap opera can move on to its next episode.

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