Jose Altuve's bat came to life. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
The Astros started the week with a day off on Monday before a two-game interleague matchup with the San Fransisco Giants, then headed to Cleveland for four more games, wrapping up their seven-game season series all in a ten-day span. Here's how things shook out:
Tuesday, May 22nd: 24-24 Giants (Andrew Suarez) vs. 30-18 Astros (Gerrit Cole)
The Astros started the week with a rout of the Giants at home on Tuesday night. The scoring started in the bottom of the third with RBIs from Max Stassi, George Springer, and Alex Bregman, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. They extended that lead to 5-0 in the bottom of the fifth on a two-RBI single by Tony Kemp, who continued to do well in his fill-in role in the outfield. San Fransisco trimmed the lead to 5-2 with their only two runs of the game, a two-run homer by Gerrit Cole's brother-in-law, Brandon Crawford, off of Cole himself. Despite the home run allowed, Cole still had a decent day, going six innings with just those two runs, four hits, and eight strikeouts. Houston continued to take advantage of San Fransisco's pitching, putting up three more runs in the bottom of the sixth on more RBIs from Kemp and Bregman, and one from Jose Altuve. Kemp wasn't done, getting two more RBIs in the bottom of the seventh, bringing him to five on the day and making it an 11-2 game which would be the final.
Final Score: Giants 2, Astros 11
Wed., May 23rd: 24-25 Giants (Jeff Samardzija) vs. 31-18 Astros (Justin Verlander)
Wednesday afternoon's game started out quiet, with both teams combining for just one hit through the first three innings. The Giants struck first, getting a run off of Justin Verlander in the top of the fourth to take a 1-0 lead. Houston tied it up right away in the bottom of the inning, scoring on an error to make it 1-1 before scoring three runs in the bottom of the fifth, two on a home run by George Springer and one on an RBI single by Carlos Correa, making it 4-1. That score would hold through the remaining four innings thanks to Verlander completing six strong followed by scoreless innings from Will Harris, Brad Peacock, then Ken Giles with the save to finish off the quick two-game sweep. The win was Verlander's sixth on the year and the lone earned run kept his ERA at a low 1.08.
Final Score: Giants 1, Astros 4
Thu., May 24th: 32-18 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 24-23 Indians (Mike Clevinger)
Cleveland looked poised to avenge the series loss last week and give Charlie Morton his first loss of the season early in the game on Thursday night, which was a rematch of starting pitchers from May 18th. The Indians took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third, and Mike Clevinger held on to that lead well, allowing just a few hits through the first four innings. Things changed in the fifth, though, with the Astros getting a couple on base setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead three-run homer to make it a 3-2 Astros lead. Houston followed that up with a huge sixth inning, going through four Cleveland pitchers including ending Clevinger's night as they scored five runs on another RBI from Alex Bregman, one for Max Stassi, and a three-run homer from none other than Jake Marisnick who was just recently brought back up to join the team while Josh Reddick moved to the DL with his leg issue. That gave the Astros a strong 8-2 lead, which they held on to with Morton finishing six innings followed by three scoreless innings from Hector Rondon and Collin McHugh. The win brought Morton to 7-0 on the season and the loss put the Indians back down to .500 on the year.
Final Score: Astros 8, Indians 2
Friday, May 25th: 33-18 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 24-24 Indians (Corey Kluber)
Similar to the night before, we had another starting pitcher rematch on Friday night, this time from May 18th with Dallas Keuchel and Corey Kluber going head-to-head again. For most of the game, it looked like it was going to be a repeat of the result from that last matchup where Kluber earned the win and Keuchel the loss as Kluber looked dominant. He held Houston scoreless in his six and one-third innings of work despite giving up seven hits and left the game with a 2-0 lead after Keuchel allowed runs to Cleveland in the third and sixth innings. Cleveland took the 2-0 lead into the eighth looking to cruise to the win, but a two-RBI double from Jose Altuve which tied the game 2-2 in the top of the eighth sparked the offense to bust the game open and score eleven runs over the eighth and ninth innings, including a three-run home run by George Springer which capped off the lopsided win.
Final Score: Astros 11, Indians 2
Sat., May 26th: 34-18 Astros (McCullers Jr.) vs. 24-25 Indians (Carlos Carrasco)
After a delayed start, the Indians took an early lead in Saturday night's game on an error by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the second inning, going up 1-0. McCullers showed some displeasure with the situation, earning him an earful from Jose Altuve as they went back to the dugout after the inning. Altuve turned that emotion right back the other way, hitting a two-run bomb to left field in the top of the third to give the Astros a 2-1 lead. Carlos Correa hit an RBI double in the top of the fifth to give the Astros their third run of the night, but they found themselves in a hole. McCullers struggled in his short start, allowing three home runs over the fourth and fifth innings to make it a disappointing seven earned-run night and gave Cleveland a 7-3 advantage. Tony Kemp trimmed the lead to 7-5 with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth, then Houston made it a one-run game with Altuve getting a triple in the top of the seventh before scoring on an RBI groundout by Correa to make it 7-6. Brad Peacock was looking strong in an extended relief appearance but allowed a home run in the bottom of the seventh to make it 8-6, and the Indians would hold that lead through the end.
Final Score: Astros 6, Indians 8
Sunday, May 27th: 34-19 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 25-25 Indians (Trevor Bauer)
It was a dramatic pitching matchup on Sunday, with UCLA alumni Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer going head-to-head, the latter of which found himself square in the crosshairs of Astros players and fans alike after suggesting on Twitter that Houston's recent pitching success could be the result of doctoring baseballs for a better spin rate. Cleveland struck first, getting a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning to go up 2-0. Max Stassi responded with a solo home run in the top of the second after an extended at-bat, trimming the lead to 1, but the Indians put the lead back at 2 in the bottom of the inning. The game remained at 3-1 for a while as both pitchers settled in, until the top of the sixth when Jose Altuve fed off of the energy of A.J. Hinch who got himself thrown out for arguing with the home plate umpire during Altuve's at-bat. Altuve followed that up with an RBI double on the very next pitch, making it 3-2 and also beating his own franchise record for consecutive hits with his ninth in a row. After giving up the three runs early, Cole finished strong, including striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh to end his start, bringing his total to 8 on the day. Bauer meanwhile came back out for the eighth and was looking to put an exclamation point to his strong day. Instead, he was finally relieved after reaching a 127 pitch count and left with two runners on, both of which came around to score after just three pitches from the Indians bullpen and put Bauer on the hook with four earned runs. Houston continued to pour it on in that inning, including a three-run home run by Evan Gattis to make it an 8-3 Astros advantage. Cleveland would not go down without a fight, getting a five-run ninth off Ken Giles and Will Harris, sending the game to extras. Gattis hit his second home run of the game to break the tie in the top of the 13th, but Cleveland tied it again in the bottom of the inning off Collin McHugh who had been doing well after pitching the night before. Brad Peacock came in to force one more inning but instead saw his first pitch go into the stands for a walk-off win for Cleveland to end Houston's week on a sour note.
Final Score (14 innings): Astros 9, Indians 10
Summary: Despite the disappointing end to the week with the extra-inning loss in Cleveland, it was still an overall strong 4-2 week for the Astros. Most notably, the offense looked strong, scoring 49 runs over the six games including two games with eleven. In addition to the normal key players coming through for the offense, they also had some timely hits from the bottom of the order with guys like Tony Kemp and Max Stassi, turning the lineup over to give the top of the order runners to work with. Despite allowing a few more runs this week than normal, the rotation anchored by Justin Verlander continues to shine and be one of the best rotations in the league. However, after seven consecutive starts of three runs or less, Lance McCullers had a terrible start on Saturday allowing seven runs. Similarly, after cleaning things up tremendously recently, the bullpen looked shaken up and ineffective in general on Sunday, blowing several leads en route to blowing the game to the Indians. Hopefully, both of those were flukes and they return back to strong performances this week. If they don't, they'll be in for a rough week with the strong opponents they have coming up. There's a lot at stake if they have a bad week too; the Astros continue to lead the AL West, but so far this year the competition in the division has looked much improved, with the Mariners just one game back and the Angels and A's still in striking distance.
MVP of the Week - Jose Altuve
Despite having a tough stretch in the middle of the week, Altuve came alive at the end of Friday night's game and rode that momentum to ten consecutive hits, breaking his own franchise record. Jose finished the week 12-for-28 for a .429 average, bringing his season average back up to .330. He notched eight RBIs, stole three bases, and now leads the league with 73 hits, putting him on pace for another 200-hit season.
• Mon-Wed: (34-20) Astros @ (33-16) Yankees
• Thu-Sun: (36-17) Red Sox @ (34-20) Astros
This week will be a big test for the Astros, as they will have seven games against two of the best teams in the league right now. First, they'll head to the Bronx for a three-game series against the Yankees where the Astros will try to vanquish the bad memories of their last three games there, the games 3, 4, and 5 losses in the ALCS of 2017. New York also took three out of four games in Houston earlier this season. Then, Boston will head to Houston for a four-game series. Boston holds the league's best record at 36-17 and has been on fire to start their 2018 campaign. With the strength of schedule present this week, it would be a huge sign if the Astros can pull off a winning record over these seven games.
With a new season on the horizon, the Astros have high hopes for 2024 after coming just one game shy of being in the World Series for three consecutive seasons.
If Houston wants to get back to the Fall Classic in 2024, they're going to have to rely on their pitching. Owner Jim Crane believes the club has 8 starting pitchers when Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. return mid-season.
Which allows several of the starters to move to the bullpen and provide even more depth. Add those guys to Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader and you have a recipe for success.
Check out the video above as ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham goes through the entire staff and makes his case for the Astros having the best pitching staff in baseball.
You can listen to The Killer B's with Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank every weekday on ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 from 3 pm - 6 pm!