Houston plays two strong NL West teams

Big week ahead for Astros against stiffer competition

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With the win on Sunday to complete the sweep of the Mariners, the Astros completed a 5-1 week against the struggling Giants and Seattle at home. The winning performances were a welcome change for Houston, who the weekend prior had just wrapped up a 3-6 road trip capped off by a sweep by the division-leading A's to send them back home with a five-game losing streak looming over their heads.

With a Rangers loss against the Rockies in Denver on Sunday, the Astros, now on a four-game winning streak, now sit in sole possession of second place in the AL West, 4.5 games behind Oakland. They took care of business against teams that the Astros of recent seasons would have no trouble with giving a glimmer of hope that even with the mounting injuries and offensive struggles of some key players, notably Jose Altuve, that the 2020 Astros may still be one of the best in the league.

First up, four against the surging Rockies

This upcoming week will probably do more to show us what this team is capable of considering the team's status and the strength of opponents. Over the seven-game slate this Monday-Sunday, the Astros will first split a four-game series with the 13-8 Rockies in a home-and-home series, starting with two at Minute Maid Park, then two at Coors Field. If the current rotation stays as scheduled, here's how the series should line up:

  • Monday (COL @ HOU): Kyle Freeland (2-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. Brandon Bielak (2-0, 1.76 ERA)
  • Tuesday (COL @ HOU): Antonio Senzatela (3-0, 3.91 ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (1-0, 2.53 ERA)
  • Wednesday (HOU @ COL): Framber Valdez (1-2, 1.90 ERA) vs. Ryan Castellani (0-0, 1.04 ERA)
  • Thursday (HOU @ COL): Cristian Javier (2-1, 2.91 ERA) vs. German Marquez (2-3, 2.25 ERA).

This schedule puts two of Houston's younger arms on the mound in the thin Denver air on Wednesday and Thursday, and against a potent Rockies offense that averages over six runs per game at home. The good news for Houston, though, is that during this past homestand, it looked like their offense may have finally gotten up to speed, especially during their nine-run outburst of an inning on Friday in Yordan Alvarez's return.

A weekend in San Diego to wrap up the week

After the Rockies, Houston's next opponent is the 11-12 Padres, with a three-game series in San Diego. Despite being third in the tightly-contested NL West, the Padres sit tenth (the Astros are eighth) in the entire league in runs scored, showing their lineup potency. So between the Rockies and Padres, the Astros are likely in for a week of back-and-forth offense with their highest chance of coming out ahead being a week full of timely hits and several longballs per game.

Let's talk about injuries and Altuve

That leads to one of the ongoing question marks in terms of injury with the Astros. Michael Brantley, one of Houston's most reliable bats, landed on the IL over the weekend, and Yordan Alvarez was a late scratch for Sunday's game with knee discomfort, something he battled with during his rookie campaign in 2019. While this lineup can afford to miss a few games without one or two bats, if you take out a Brantley and Alvarez, and throw in a struggling Altuve, all of a sudden this lineup that is usually intimidating top-to-bottom all of a sudden looks a lot more beatable towards the bottom.

Speaking of, let's address the Altuve situation. After his recent struggles, he made, in my opinion, a seasoned and self-aware decision to approach his manager and request to be moved down in the lineup. That, to me, exhibits leadership and a team-above-self mentality. Public opinion may decide how Altuve's career gets evaluated as a whole in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. Still, if he's the selfless teammate he appears to be in situations like this, then getting a spark to turn his year around in Denver may come at just the right time.

In terms of injuries, on the pitching side, mystery abounds regarding what the Astros may have available for the rest of this shortened 60-game season. Jose Urquidy is ramping up in Houston's alternate site in Corpus Christi, but no concrete timetable is available on when he may join the team, and in what capacity. Both closer Roberto Osuna and ace Justin Verlander, after initially being reported as having to miss the remainder of the year with their respective injuries, have recently been described as "working out" with hopes to rejoin the team in some capacity this year. Time will tell, but until more optimistic updates become available on some of these notable arms, the Astros will have to press on with what they have.

Nearing the halfway point

This week can prove pivotal in the short season as the Astros try to keep pace with the A's for the division lead, and the Rangers who are making a bid to take advantage of the short season to get into the playoffs as well. Quite frankly, Houston cannot afford to have another disastrous road trip like they did last time. With lingering injuries and other struggles, they may not be able to make it up down the stretch as we are already approaching the halfway point of the 2020 regular season.

In fact, after Sunday's game against the Padres, the Astros will have already put 28 of the 60 games in the books. So having a good position in the division at that point may not only be desirable, but necessary, for the ultimate outcome of this season.

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This is getting out of hand. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Allsport/Getty Images.

Dr. Rick warns his patients, young homeowners who are turning into their parents, you can expect to pay more for snacks and drinks at a movie theater. It's the same deal at a professional sports venue. Three years ago, I put a down payment on a cheeseburger at Toyota Center ... I still have three more payments to go before I get it.

But this is ridiculous. The PGA Championship, the lesser (least) of golf's majors, is charging $18 for a beer, a 25-ounce Michelob Ultra, at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. It's $19 for a Stella Artois. You can buy a six-pack for less at the supermarket. Aren't there laws against price gouging, like during a hurricane? Isn't Tulsa where the Golden Hurricanes play? Get FEMA in here. Did tournament directors get together and ponder, how can we piss off our fans? Sure, it's Tulsa and there's not much else to do, but that's no excuse.

Charging $18 for a beer makes the concession stands at Minute Maid Park look like a Sunday morning farmer's market. A 25-ounce domestic beer during an Astros game is $13.49. A 25-ounce premium beer is $14.45. Yeah, that's high for a beer, but at Minute Maid Park there are lots of hands in the till. Aramark wants to make a profit, the taxman has big mitts, and the Astros want their cut, too. Look, you want to sign Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez to an extension or not? Then drink up and don't complain. Some quiet grumbling and head-shaking is permitted, however.

You know the PGA Championship is charging too much for a beer when even the rich pampered players take notice. "18 (!!!!!) for a beer ... uhhh what," former PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas tweeted. "Good thing I don't drink a lot."

Like he will be in line for a beer at a public concession booth, anyway.

Of course there will be fans sneaking in beer in baggies strapped to their ankles, like stuffing your pockets with store-bought Snickers before going to the movies. It doesn't have to be this way. The Masters, the most prestigious golf event, charges only $5 for both domestic and imported beer. I know it's a gimmick, part of The Masters mystique along with pimento sandwiches for $1.50, but still it's a welcome gesture. You never lose when you treat the public fairly. When Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in Atlanta, Falcons owner Arthur Blank insisted that food vendors charge the same inside the stadium as they do at their regular restaurants. Same thing when Denver International Airport opened, fast food restaurants couldn't jack up their prices to their captive customers. Here? There needs to be a loan window outside the Cinnabon booth at Bush-Intercontinental.

Except for the Masters in Augusta, golf's majors aren't tied to a city. A major comes to a city maybe every few years or in most cases never. There's no need to ride into a city like the James Gang, rob the local bank, and high tail it out of town. Golf should be the last professional sport to stick it to fans. While the game has made strides to open its arms to lower-income youths, golf remains an elitist, extremely expensive sport for regular folk. Equipment is expensive, private courses are exclusive and country clubs are exclusionary. Public courses are less expensive but still expensive and crowded. Plus there's never been a professional sport more dangerously dominated by one person than golf. I can imagine network executives on their knees praying that Tiger Woods makes the cut and plays on weekends. Otherwise, TV ratings go straight into the toilet, you know, like whatever team Mattress Mack is betting on. (I joke because I love, and frankly a little scared.)

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