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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The NASCAR Cup Series heads for Michigan International Speedway for the FireKeepers 400. MIS is one of the fastest racetracks in the country, as cars are capable of reaching speeds of 201-205 miles per hour. Hopefully, we will see a safe race considering the speeds we see here. We will more than likely see a race that is vastly different from what we saw last here when the drivers utilized the draft to pass around this track. This year, the cars are less aero-dependent and will be much more spread out. The drivers will need to continue to manage their tires as they have been doing all year.

Last weekend at Indy, Tyler Reddick captured his second victory of 2022 in dramatic fashion. The race came down to numerous restarts where drivers would drive way too deep into the first corner and run into each other each time. This was the central theme of the race, as restarts pretty much decided everything. We saw drivers like AJ Allmendinger, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney get swept up in wrecks in turn one. On the final restart, Ross Chastain decided he didn’t want to be a part of these shenanigans and took the access road that skipped turn one. This moved catapulted him to the lead with Tyler Reddick as the two battled for the lead in a two-lap shootout. When the dust settled, Reddick came away victorious and Ross Chastain was black flagged for shortcutting.

The finish of this race sparked a serious debate among drivers and fans alike about ditching the Indianapolis road course and returning to the oval in 2023. Personally, this doesn’t make any sense to me. While yes, turn one is difficult to maneuver, it’s mainly because drivers all decide to send it as deep as they can, not because of the racetrack configuration. It’s also a bit disingenuous as for years, drivers and fans have been saying they don’t want to see the oval and that the track is designed for IndyCar. If I had to choose, I would say NASCAR just stop going to Indy and go to the short track down the road at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. We have seen so many great races there, and I think the Cup Series would be perfect for that track. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how NASCAR responds to this and what they decide to do for next season.

Kurt Busch will be out for the third consecutive week as he continues to recover from a concussion. This has been tough to hear about, and now there are legitimate concerns that he will not return to racing. There is a good chance however that 23XII could be saving him for the playoffs which are coming up.

For now, Ty Gibbs will continue to fill in for Busch. In his two starts the young phenom has performed extremely well, finishing 16th at Pocono and 17th at Indy. It’s clear that this young man can drive these cars, the only problem is finding a place for him to run next season.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Martin Truex Jr. By any other standard, the season that Truex is having has been great. Constantly up front, leading laps and just overall contending. Unfortunately for him, 2022 hasn’t been just any average season. With 14 winners and Truex not being one of them, he is on the playoff bubble even though he is fourth in points. While his playoff future maybe uncertain right now, there are some good racetracks he is going to where can easily get that first win, and Michigan is one of them. Over the last four races here, he currently has the highest average finish, the highest percentage of laps led, but no victories. I see that changing this week. Toyota and Gibbs have been fast this season as Truex’s teammates have all punched their tickets to the playoffs. Look for Truex to be next in line.

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